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Tuesday
Dec112018

It's the Cost of Gas and Food and Rent, Stupid.

I have no idea whether France’s recent turmoils over a gas tax increase, the high cost of living, and high taxes and low wages for the working poor, combined with tax cuts for the wealthy, means anything for United States politics. The French have a history of taking to the streets and causing public mayhem as a way of sending a message to their government. Here in America, our protests are as likely to be directed at our fellow citizens, at corporations, or at cultural norms and practices, as at our government. The last protests against the government, rivaling those in France, that I can remember, were against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Much of the same dynamic that instigated the French protests is at work in the United States. Tax cuts have favored the wealthy and corporations. For ordinary workers, slow growth in wages has not outpaced the inflation rate. In our largest cities, it is impossible for minimum or even low-wage earners to pay for rent, and families are forced to live with other families under the same roof to make ends meet—either that or join the growing number of working homeless. Despite low prices for oil, gas prices have not gone down, and U.S. sanctions against Iran are threatening to increase them, in the same way that tariff policies are increasing the price of a number of products, affecting food, automobile and clothing prices. Republicans have tried to chip away at healthcare benefits under Obamacare, with their proposals threatening to leave millions of sick and working poor vulnerable to catastrophic medical bills or having to forego treatment.

Progressive voices have focused on increasing minimum wages, a fight that has been led by unions more than politicians. But the bastions of progressivism, which are the large, liberal cities, mostly on either coast, have created situations that are unlivable for the working poor and often even for the lower middle class. The progressive fights have been about identity issues related to ethnicity and gender and climate change more than about living conditions and financial viability for the working poor. The needs of coal miners, oil industry workers and farmers, who fear environmental measures as further eroding their precarious financial situations have not been addressed by progressive leaders.

In France, the “yellow-vest” protesters were more or less leaderless, and appear to have consisted of those who are directly affected by the government policies they are protesting. In America, our progressive protesters are mostly college students and upper-middle class liberals. We have very few national leaders who come from the ranks of the working poor or the dispossessed. We rightly celebrate the election of Muslim, Black, Asian and women representatives to a congress made up of mostly old White men, but it’s nearly impossible for a person without means to even run an election.

Are we headed for a situation like the one that occurred in France? Probably not in the near future, but the underlying factors are similar in our two countries. I don’t want to see violent street protests and having to take to the streets at all, suggests to me a failure or our democratic system of elected representation. I’m financially comfortable myself and am solidly middle class, probably a function of the age in which I grew up and worked and of my gender and skin color, as much as anything else . But some of my relatives and many of my friends are facing very difficult circumstances. The nieces, nephews and grandchildren I have urged to get good grades and a college degree face an employment situation where they will be able to get a job but not afford to pay rent. My relatives and friends who have serious medical conditions and earn enough to have to buy their own insurance live in terror of losing their insurance or being hit with gigantic medical bills because they could not afford insurance that didn’t have large deductibles or co-pays. Those without a college education find their wages slipping even further behind the cost of living and have no prospect of things getting better. 

Someone has to speak for those who are barely making it, or not making it at all, in our society. We have a lot of new progressives in congress (nearly 100 in the House of representatives). I hope these elected representatives address the issues I’ve outlined above. Our public consciousness is focused on the shenanigans of a corrupt administration, on identity issues and college campus speakers, and on celebrities whose lives don’t resemble ordinary people’s at all (I read as many stories of the tragedies of famous Malibu residents as of the ordinary people in Northern California devastated by recent fires). Many people are not making it in our society, yet are working hard to try to make ends meet. That’s not right and, as a society we need to do better. It’s up to progressive politicians to try to fix things.

 

Reader Comments (2)

So, here's my comment, Casey - on my blog this time! http://www.billiekelpin.com/category/commentary-corner/

December 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Wow. How you've come to the conclusion that progressive policies will end protests in France literally defies any sensible objectivity. You're obviously reading the twisted and tortured take on the French protests from the liberal American media. If you listen to the non-Parisian gilets jaunes, many of those I've seen interviewed explicitly say that the Macron government and French elites are lying about climate change and furthermore, these protesters express views that are largely anti-immigration and anti-Sharia compliance. Many support the policies of President Trump and favor French sovereignty if not necessarily French nationalism.

Your final point that progressive politicians can or should "fix things" is both naive and dangerous. Our nation was founded and largely continues to be directed by the concept of individual civil liberty. Government rarely betters a situation. Granted, we should always help those who are truly deficient and disabled, but typically, those people are better served by family, friends, neighbors, churches, community organizations and other local efforts. Government programs are usually very inefficient and are often deterrents to actual life progress. In a flood situation, pulling someone halfway up the building by a rope only to let them dangle there isn't really saving them- it quickly becomes a suffocation by hanging. In effect, that's what you're advocating for- more poorly conceived, poorly implemented government interventions that quash any true advancement.

December 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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