“I’m John, customer service of Big Bank, speaking from San Antonio. How can I help?”
John clearly rehearsed his script. I glanced at mine. (You should have a script in theater of the absurd or during any call to Big Corp, Big Gummit and most family.)
“Do you have the power to reduce my credit card APR to a reasonable rate?” I asked. “If not, please connect me to the entity capable of doing so. Thank you.”
John pleasantly explained he was merely a hostage chained to a headset in a cubicle, reading from a script to pay his student loans. He’s got a degree in political science but doesn’t have a vote at Big Bank. He connected me to his superior.
“Jenine, the prime rate and interest on savings accounts is near nothing,” I said. “My credit score is good. Please, reduce my APR from 29 percent to 10 percent.”
Jenine explained my 29 percent APR was the “lowest possible.”
“The stock market’s near 17,000. Your employer borrows money at next to nothing. Twenty-nine percent is the ‘lowest possible?’”
Jenine diligently stuck to the script.
“Your board of directors voted your CEO a 74-percent raise in January for outstanding tax evasion, law bending and usury,” I told her. “How much of a raise did you get for your outstanding customer service? My guess is, no matter how many hours you work, you’re not getting nearly as much as the dude in the next office.”
Silence. But I could tell she was about to break.
“Jenine, your bank just charged my kid a $35 overdraft protection fee for a $2 soda! $35 for $2? The mafia doesn’t charge that percentage for protection!”
Jenine broke. She whispered she couldn’t even get her employer to lower her APR. She cautiously advised me to take my money and run.
“Any ideas where I should run?”
Jennine went silent for a long moment before saying: “I don’t have a vote.”
John and Jennine’s words, “I don’t have a vote,” ensured I would get to the Cameron Art Museum for the last of the Moral Movie offerings of the summer: “Inequality for All.” The movie presents Robert Reich’s perspective on the dangers to democracy the growing inequality in our society yield. Reich was secretary of labor during Democrat Bill Clinton’s first term, but he’s quick to point out he was assistant to the solicitor general under Republican Gerald Ford. In that era Republicans and Democrats were only adversaries, and the secretary of labor mattered a little. Now, the parties are enemies and the secretary of labor is—Who? (In case you’re on “Jeopardy,” it’s Thomas Perez.)
Reich’s point isn’t that capitalism is evil. His concern is that the version of capitalism we’ve been practicing since around 1980 will ensure the rich get richer and poor get poorer. It presents a clear and present danger to representative democracy. Reich underscores what many of us have known since high school: There is no such thing as a “free market.” All economic markets exist in a society of actual people operating within (or outside of) the laws of a social and political framework. Reich seems most concerned that, with wealth in the hands of the few, no campaign finance reform, and the Citizen’s United decision entrenching money as speech and corporations as people, our democratic experiment is in danger.
Most documentaries draw sparse crowds; but more than twice the expected crowd (about 171 according to the event host) attended. I must not be the only one curious about how the economy can eternally grow while teachers, carpenters and nurses can effectively earn less than they did in 1979. How is it that while pleading bankruptcy, busting unions and outsourcing jobs, CEO pay keeps skyrocketing? How is it that our salaries and purchasing power have been shrinking since 1979, while the gross domestic product and stock market have trended solid growth since the Great Depression?
There may be a fix for inequality. Every once in a while one of those fundamental preacher folks gives a great bumper sticker idea to steal. Recently, so-called historian David Barton raised a so-called Bible principle from the dead, “One family, one vote.” Let’s apply that principle to the corporate families such as Hobby Lobby, Exxon, Bank of America. Sure, it may have trouble passing constitutional muster, but with this SCOTUS breathing life into the corporate soul, how could they deny them the vote?
“One Corporation, One Vote.” That’s my bumper sticker, dude.