THE BLOG

Extreme Monopoly

Just as I had found the silver lining in Hurricane Katrina -- at least it put the kibosh on Bush's promotional tour for "The Ownership Society" -- he goes and suspends the Davis-Baker Act. What kind of "Monopoly" game is he playing?

Granted, I'm not a good "Monopoly" player. I don't buy houses and hotels. I like to go around the board, paying and collecting rents, hoping to land on "Community Chest" where my good deeds make me the delighted recipient of municipal munificence. And of course, I get my $200.00 every time I pass "Go." To me, that "Go" space is like Social Security -- it allows me to stay in the game.

But while I'm not a natural born capitalist, I've read Robert Heilbroner's "Visions of the Future" goes from the 1500s, when capitalism split what had previously been a seamless socioeconomic unit into a society and an economy, to the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher triumphantly proclaimed, "There is no society."

Which just goes to show that the "Ownership Society" is more than a euphemism for "Privatizing Social Security"; it's an oxymoron. The owners don't want a society. As explained by an ardent capitalist-cum-letter-writer to the L.A. Times, they believe there was no such thing as society until Henri Rousseau, the French philosopher who wrote "the Social Contract," made it up. Quel surprise -- it's all the Frenchies' fault.

But now, riding to the rescue, standards aloft, come Bush and his fellow-ideologues, ready to wrest capitalism from the jaws of society. Proudly and bravely, they are privatizing everything in sight to create a new land, a land called "The Ownership Society." We won't be citizens -- too French, too "La Marseillaise." We won't even be consumers -- consumers believe corporations should be accountable. No, we'll be shareholders.

Of course, once you understand that "Ownership" means owning shares in the Stock Market, the whole "Ownership Society" makes sense as a strategy. People who own shares in a company want that company to grow. If it doesn't grow, neither do their portfolios. So owners make decisions that benefit ownership, not society. Get enough owners and pouf, society will disappear.

Of course those without the means to buy shares will have no stake in the economy, and since there won't be a society, the country will have no stake in them. Isn't that what we just saw in New Orleans? The Ownership Society version of the Rapture: The shareholders, risen up into airplanes to be saved and the sharecroppers, the "left behind."

And now, as if the left-behind hadn't suffered enough tortures of the damned, Bush suspends the Davis-Baker Act. Hmmm, let's see: On the one hand, pay the laborers working to rebuild New Orleans the prevailing wage -- which allows them to make the money they need to get back on their feet and possibly even to save a penny here, a penny there until they too can be a share-holder...Or, pay them at or below subsistence wage which insures a healthy profit for those hiring the labor -- like, say, Halliburton -- and for its shareholders.

And the winner is...Parker Brothers! Introducing "Extreme Monopoly." Forget "Community Chest." Forget "Go." There's not even a "Go to Jail" card anymore; now you're just "Out of the Game."