Finding the Cause of Our Woes

The most common refrain I have heard from college graduates in my city is "I love it here, but there aren't any jobs." I came here to a small Montana city under a certain amount of personal duress and familial responsibility. I left a career as a commercial photographer in San Francisco, knowing an occupation like it did not exist in my entire adopted state. My then-9 year-old son was the sole reason I came. I knew I could get the career back if I wanted, but I could never get these years back with him. I knew coming here would mean leaving my career, and likely would put me on a path of having to obtain multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

During my photographic career, I was troubled by patterns I was seeing in the advertising world. I was responsible for making otherwise mundane objects -- that were manufactured in other countries with cheap labor -- look good. I wasn't just buying a single object -- I was selling it, through enticing color imagery, to the masses. And the ads were surely to be accompanied by scintillating text that would convince people of their urgent need to buy that item.

I almost never saw a "Made in USA" label -- usually Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Cambodia, and other Asian locales. Besides wine, I rarely photographed anything from America. I became disenchanted with the idea that I was being paid to capture images of these items in order to sell more of them to unwitting Americans. My job depended directly upon more of these items being sold. In essence, I was a cog in the machine of globalization, and I knew deep down that there was a connection between the globalizing powers of economics, partisan politics, and our environmental condition.

After realizing that typical jobs here meant I'd have to compete with 150 other applicants for a part-time dishwashing job, and that this pattern was repeating itself, I chose to go after the Bachelor's degree that I had always wanted to obtain. I was drawn to anthropology -- the study of the human race, our evolution, and how we got to be where we are now. I earned my Bachelor's degree last month, with high honors, in anthropology, and I specifically focused on political and economic anthropology and globalization's effects on humans and our environment. This was fundamental to my understanding of the American hegemony.

We occupy an era of rampant consumerism, with calls for ever-growing economies as the panacea for our woes. But, perpetual economic growth is not the answer to our global problems. In fact, I argue it is the cause of it -- from the Industrial Revolution onward. The Reaganomic policy of deregulation and liberalized trade that we now refer to as 'neoliberalism' attaches itself to our Western political label of Liberal -- but the policies are fervently championed by Conservatives. In fact, all of the presidents we have had since 1981 have embraced neoliberal economic policies. From the dismantling of environmental protections by Reagan, to the NAFTA support of Bush Sr. and Clinton, to the NSA and executive authority implemented by George W. Bush, to the continued NSA, executive authority, and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement of the Obama administration -- we only think our presidents have been night-and-day different. They are more homogenous in their economic agendas than we'd like to admit. Where we differ, as Professor George Lakoff argues, is in our moral frames and how we construct the metaphors of our worldviews, which drive our justifications of economic agendas. The need for progressives to become aware of these economic policies is paramount. Because, if our seemingly progressive presidential candidates continue to deliver more of the same neoliberal economic policies, we can expect more of the same social inequality and environmental destruction these policies have brought us under conservative frameworks.

Many become trapped in the lose-lose situation of voting for the 'lesser of the evils' -- but, the evil lies in the how they want to get things done. The chief characteristic, that is readily observable at the surface, is the support our government has for protecting the interests of trans-national corporations. Deregulating global trade harms American jobs, and thus, harms our freedom. This is the mechanism that brings us our 'outsourced jobs' and is a product of so-called 'free trade agreements.' When we seek to privatize everything, there is no guarantee that the corporation will do anything besides what they are legally required to do: increase profits for shareholders. It is patently un-American to believe in the moral authority of a trans-national corporation that sees its employees and the environment as expendable. Corporations are not people -- no brain, no heart.

When I hear people claim "Our Troops Have Fought For Our Freedom" -- I implore those that use this statement to truly be honest and spell out the details of this freedom. Our freedom has not been directly challenged since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So, yes, WWII and prior veterans have directly fought for our freedom. After that, it is characterized by police actions, occupations, and 'spreading democracy.' But, it has been, and is, chiefly about resources. 9/11 was an isolated group of fundamentalist terrorists -- not a country declaring war upon us. Let's be clear -- our soldiers today fight for our control over resources in other nations. This is what is called Neocolonialism. Developed nations utilize mobile finance, globally, to externalize costs to the least-developed and developing nations, under the guise of 'foreign aid,' and hide behind transparent altruism. In the end, it is a corporate business and they would not make this 'aid' investment (a conditional loan that needs to be repaid) if it weren't a sound investment, fueled by cheap labor, and promising high profit margins.

As I wonder where the good jobs are, I drive by the Wal-Marts and the Targets, and I see how their parking lots are filled with the cars of customers. As I examine the ubiquity of photography in the market, I see how the days, wherein a freelancer would submit their contract as a seller-of-service, are dwindling. Now, the buyer (usually a corporation) supplies their terms, which typically include owning your copyright and paying you in 45 days (usually more) -- and if you don't accept, they find someone else (enter campaigns such as REI's call for user-submitted photos for use in advertising campaigns, in perpetuity, sans compensation). As I diversify my skill-set with more trade-oriented work, I continue to watch other 30/40-somethings become disenchanted with the corporate grind and seek something more local, more holistic, more worthwhile for their working time on Earth.

Big business is directly harming American jobs and American freedom. America needs to internalize costs, manufacture goods and energy at home, champion small-businesses, regulate corporations, and shift our economy towards a steady-state that takes care of its citizenry as an American family. Our most pervasive export is our so-called American Dream of 'upward mobility.' But, never-ending economic growth and the ideology that this growth is the panacea for domestic and global woes only increases wage disparity, environmental destruction, and social injustice, worldwide. Is this the dream we really want other nations to follow?