The Brookings Institution has a report that plainly says that 44% of the US labor force is low-wage earners. That is 53 million Americans 18-64 whose median wage (the point where as many fall below as are higher) is $10.22 an hour or an annual salary of $17.950. These are staggering statistics. I originally put the article away and yet was so struck by it, the numbers kept coming back. What haunts are the consequences. According to the report there is little chance of these workers being able to go into higher paying jobs. We say we have as near full employment as we’ve had in the last 5 decades, but what does it mean when almost half the workforce can’t earn enough and can’t have access to upward mobility? These statistics open so many questions in a consumer driven economy. Since a recession is part of our future, won’t these workers be the first to bear the brunt? We speak of how politically divided we are. And that may be, but there are other divisions that are far more immediate to the well-being of citizens, economic equality for one. On a practical level, it’s not or ought not to be, difficult to imagine the hardships of living with so little money. When you’re struggling to that extent, it would seem that voting or participation in politics is not likely to be among your priorities. Are these workers part of the growing number of working homeless, often families? And too what about the children? What kind of neighborhoods are they living in, what kind of schools? What does it mean for their future and the future of the nation? Perhaps even more to the point where’s the outrage when nearly half of our working force are low wage earners?
Surveillance systems in schools are a $3 billion dollar industry. Several security companies now offer their services in several states. Basically they monitor, mainly via a number of algorithms, students’ emails not only those written at school but also those written from home. Google searches are also monitored. Although the official word is monitor, the word track seems more apt. The algorithms look for certain key phrases which could, they say, alert them to danger. The rationale for all this, which began after the Sandy Hook massacre, is to save lives. The companies can share dramatic examples of how suicidal thoughts were uncovered, or an instance of when within minutes after 2 boys were overheard going to the bathroom to smoke spot in secret, they were stopped. Since there are no gun control laws, schools feel the need to engage in whatever they can to protect their students. Many schools now have police officers on their campus, sometimes with dire results. And while the algorithms alert people, the possibility for taking phrases out of context exists and is a real drawback.
Surveillance is now a fact of life, and it is time we define where and how it is appropriate and demand the implementation of those limits. While some parents have welcomed the monitoring of their children’s emails and have asked for the results, there is something very scary about monitoring the emails of minors who have no say so and do it because we as a society are not able to pass gun control legislation.
Readers of these pieces will be familiar with Thomas Piketty the French economist who a few years ago wrote Capital in the Twenty First Century and whose impact is reflected in our emphasis upon inequality. He has now written a kind of sequel Capital and Ideology which some say will do for politics what the Capital book did for economics. The 1200 page book which was just published in France will be available in English next March but Piketty has already given interviews and spoken of his new ideas. He says he wanted to redress what he perceived as a weakness in Capital where he only dealt with the West. In this one he deals with the whole world. In the first part of the book he makes clear how the idea of property including slave ownership had political and ideological ramifications. The second part addresses recipes for how he sees the problems that lay behind the inequalities we have today. Some are quite radical, he asks for example that we give up on the idea of property as being essentially sacred, an idea upon which capitalism and modern economies are built. He also suggests that wealth could be borrowed, in other words we could own it temporarily for certain periods of time. He also suggests that all young people be given an inheritance before they start their adult life not after, in certain ways hoping to level the playing field. One headline I saw said Piketty wanted to do away with billionaires leading me to believe that in today’s US some of these ideas are already talked about. Whether they’re radical or not, whether they can actually be implemented or not may not be the crux of this book’s importance. It may be that like the other one it forces us to grapple with issues crucial to social justice.
Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.