January 25, 2007

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Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class, by Thom Hartmann (Bennett-Koehler Books, 2007, 238 pages)
By Eric W. Saeger news@hippopress.com.

Air America left-wing wonk Thom Hartmann is a heavy dabbler, not just in politics but in its mechanisms and cogs. For Screwed, he dons his economist cap, organ-grinding away on how the middle class “is on its deathbed.”

In fairness to the Ann Coulters of the world, the left also does tend to get a tad hyperbolic in their rhetoric, although in the case of Al Franken’s henchpeople it comes sporadically, not in the steady stream familiar to just-for-laughs viewers of mental rat poison like Fox and Fiends. Hartmann would have better served his case by sticking only with footnoted factoids, many of which brim with shock value.

The majority of middle-class Americans, particularly those who’ve either lost everything or lived in constant fear of same, know the deal already: an insensate “corporatocracy” runs the country. Among other points toward that effect, Hartmann relates a horror tale about Nike Corp., the 2002 Nike vs. Kasky case involving the company’s sweat-shop labor practices. That year, Nike poured millions into a PR blitz propagating the idea that they’d cleaned up their sweatshop practices. A fellow named Marc Kasky caught them in some inevitable lies, which the courts soon made into an inevitable loophole, granting corporations the legal right to dish outright BS to the public, in short because if a regular Joe can say “check’s in the mail,” so can a corporation.

Hartmann goes after Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics, noting that $20,000 handed to a typical wage-earner would certainly end up being spent and put back in the economy, whereas the same amount handed over to a Bill Gates would end up being used, pretty much unnoticed, to fatten an investment-earning portfolio that will never be touched.

The beat goes on. The author mentions how “discouraged workers” who’ve given up looking for work don’t figure in employment statistics, meaning that the unemployment rate in these times is actually double what we’re told. At one point during that particular lecture, however, Hartmann fumbles the ball, interjecting histrionically that “If you considered underemployment in the same category, we’d be back in the Great Depression now.” In sheer numbers, perhaps yes, but the statement is statistically false, being that the height of the Depression saw unemployment of 25 percent.

A small nit to pick, sure, but imagine how far Rush Limbaugh would run with it. It’s hysterical yipping like that that hurts progressive causes, because the other side doesn’t play debate club, they play Rollerball. Hartmann and his ilk need to remember the mindset of the choir to whom they preach.

Actually, it’s base pride and consumerism that’s screwing the middle class most of all, which Hartmann alludes to but doesn’t Sharpie into the public record. As he points out, the average amount of income that Americans save is now –5 percent, while credit card debt averages around a near-insurmountable $10,000. It’s the addiction to half-wanted creature comforts that the proletariat needs to wean itself from, thereby cutting off the corporatocracy’s circulation, lest the revolution be televised on laughably expensive (but the hottest!) gizmos. B+ — Eric W. Saeger