See through economic bait and switch

See through economic bait and switch

Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, recently issued a scathing statement about the shameful state of the US economy. On October 31, 2023, De Schutter criticized several large private sector employers in the United States, such as Amazon, Walmart, and DoorDash, for trapping their workers in a cycle of poverty.

He said,

“Jobs are supposed to provide a path out of poverty, but the business model at the three companies appears to be to shift operating costs to the public by relying on government benefits to supplement very low wages.”

In a related letter to the US government, De Schutter wrote:

“Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the United States has a high rate of worker poverty.”

Such public statements by a representative of a major international body should be a mark of shame on the United States, which has historically marketed itself as the place where people’s dreams come true.

In contrast to De Schutter’s rhetoric, the media’s assessment of companies is very rosy, increasingly relying on the word “resilient” as a popular description of the economy as a whole. According to the Financial Times, the amazing resilience of the US economy so far stems from one fundamental force: consumer spending. Economist Kathy Bostiancic, interviewed for this story, cited the “incredible job growth” and praised how “balance sheets look really good, and stocks have done well overall.”

The US government also sees only cause for celebration. Treasury Department officials bragged on October 26, 2023, that the country’s economy this year “exceeded expectations in three key dimensions: economic output growth, labor market resilience, and decelerating inflation,” and that the country’s economic progress “is standing out around the world.” the world.”

How do we explain these stark discrepancies in assessments between the United Nations and those made by the major media and the US government?

In short, the assessments made by the US media and politicians are based on corporate prosperity, while the UN assessment is based on individual prosperity.

If we look closely, there is an obvious dissonance. We, the people, are being sold the lie that the values ​​of the wealthy are the same as ours. But what is shown does not reflect reality.

Merriam-Webster defines “bait and switch” as “a sales technique in which a customer is lured by advertising a low-priced item, but is then encouraged to purchase a higher-priced product.” It’s an apt phrase for understanding the way mainstream economists, the corporate media, and many politicians promote the idea of ​​stock values ​​as something ordinary Americans should care about.

A year after falling to a record low in 2022, the U.S. child poverty rate has more than doubled, partly due to the expiration of government benefits tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, average household income has declined significantly. Economists rarely address such uncomfortable details when they celebrate the “resilience” of the stock market, preferring instead to focus on the fact that more people are working, not whether their wages and benefits support a decent standard of living.

Sometimes there is We are Stories that undermine the corporate narrative, such as a March 2023 NBC story headlined “Most People Have Jobs, But Many Are Unsatisfied with Their Money.” But such coverage is the exception.

The story we are expected to internalize, which directly contradicts our financial concerns, is that we should be satisfied with the nation’s current financial situation because stocks are doing well and corporate balance sheets look good.

There is another story, one that is consistent with individual findings.

“International human rights law recognizes the right to a living wage,” De Schutter wrote. “Workers should receive, at a minimum, a ‘living wage’ that is regularly adjusted to the cost of living.”

De Schutter’s assertion that Americans have the right to earn a living wage is one that rarely enters mainstream discourse in the United States. When people are deprived of their rights, they will rise up to demand them, and the recent rise in union activity and strikes is an indication that increasing numbers of people are realizing and turning to the economic bait.

The changing narrative around wealth inequality, stagnant wages, and economic health is reflected in the simple, direct message that UAW President Sean Fine regularly displays on his “All the Rich” T-shirt. UAW members are voting on major wage gains their union won from the Big Three automakers after weeks of hard-line strike activity that is grounded in a very different set of values ​​than those that define a rosy economic outlook.

The phrase “eat the rich” has its origins in the French Revolution and the anger of the poor targeting the aristocracy in the 18th century. The saying “When people have nothing to eat, they will eat the rich” is attributed to French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Its popularity in contemporary American society serves as a warning to those in the media and in the halls of government against selling the lie that corporate values ​​equal people’s values.

Congress and the White House can easily thwart the growing popular tide by adopting any number of simple, direct policy changes. Echoing progressive recommendations, De Schutter made several suggestions in his letter to the government: If the minimum wage is too low, the federal minimum wage should be raised and the cost of living increased. If unions are too weak, loopholes that allow corporate employers to undermine union activity must be closed.

Another straightforward solution: If pandemic-era benefits reduce child poverty rates, the benefits should be renewed.

One can understand why the Biden administration would want to cheer the state of the US economy. Despite the gridlock in Congress, and especially Republicans’ barriers to commonsense economic legislation, economic stability is one of the central responsibilities of government, and achieving success in this area is key to Biden’s reelection efforts in 2024. So, his administration is putting on a happy face. On the economy and covering discrepancies between stock values ​​and real wages.

One can also understand why the corporate media cheers on economic indicators that matter to the wealthy. Media companies are cut from the same commercial cloth as Amazon, Walmart, and DoorDash, companies that De Schutter singled out for the exploitative treatment of their workers.

What is less understandable is why the general public accepted the bait and switch of economic values ​​for so long.

This article was produced by Economics for everyonea project of the Independent Media Institute.

Teaser image source: Homeless tents on the sidewalk in Skid Row, Los Angeles. By Ross Alison Loar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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