C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

They're not quite lying...

...But they're hardly telling the truth.

Recently, I've had occasion to raise some concerns about what is arguably one of Australia's leading conservative blogs. The author of said blog is not an idiot, but holds some views that seem to me to be rather off the mark, particularly as regards modernism, feminism, and racism.

On this latter topic, I noticed these comments recently, in an apparent attempt to inflame white resentment:

Again we have the double standard. Whites are held to have wealth solely on the basis of inherited privilege...

The other problem with all the claims about white males being privileged is that it hides an underlying trend in which the real wages of white working class men have been falling since the 1970s.

It's a double whammy: you get paid less in real terms than your father did and at the same time you're told that you should be punished for being privileged - even though there are other groups doing better than you.

This is a deceptive bit of 'reframing', and both the far-right, and the more mainstream ruling elites do it all the time.

Let's take a look at the main substantive claim here, namely, that the wages of 'white working class men' have declined since the 1970s. Whilst it's technically true, it's extremely misleading. The author does not specify his source, but I presume he is referring to this data from the US, where 'real', inflation-adjusted wages peaked in 1972, only to enter steady decline thereafter, with a feeble, if temporary improvement in the late 1990s.

From this chart, we can conclude that it is not only the 'white working class' that has suffered, but all non-farm workers in the US, on average. We might just as easily claim that Black or Hispanic workers' wages have also gone down.

Now, many of the problems that conservatives note in society are genuine. There are plenty of things for people to be aggrieved about. The problem for conservatives is that they can't implicate capitalism in their grievances. This means that they are doomed to misunderstand our wages chart above. Our chart tells us that wages began to decline in the US in the wake of stagflation of the economy, the oil crisis, and the gradual abandonment of Keynesian welfarism for neoliberal economic policies.

We can see further that wages continued their decline under that cherished conservative, Reagan, whose assault on organised labour, and whose transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has since been known as Reaganomics. By the early 1980s in the US, the seeds were basically sown for the immiseration of workers thereafter, by way of the 'reforms' implemented by Reagan. No mention of this by the conservatives, however.

Furthermore, when wages peaked in 1972, union membership in the private sector was 28%. Today it is 8%. A quarter of all workers in the US earn wages that place them below the poverty line. The minimum wage in the US has repeatedly been attacked as a supposed barrier to employment. Today, it stands a third lower than it did in 1968. (source)

Meanwhile, the pay of CEOs was 26 times that of the average worker in 1965. In 1980, it was 40 times greater. By 2004, it grew to being 500 times greater (source). Clearly, as Mark Richardson said, 'some groups' are doing vastly better than others, however, this is on the basis of class, not race.

It's a shame, really, that rather than form a broad coalition seeking better rights for all, conservatives are all-too-often content to remain silent about their counterparts in power, and choose instead to scapegoat mythical 'liberals', or to indulge in the worst sort of race-baiting. Nonetheless, it has ever been thus, and this is why a better deal for all workers, white or otherwise, will never derive from the dead-end of conservatism.