Barbara Ehrenreich is the kind of writer you might know about...and know her views in general...but may not have read. That's how it was for me until the last few days when I ripped through This Land is Their Land:Reports from a Divided Nation. She is what used to be called a liberal, not a bad word in my book, and she attacks the growing wealth divide in the U.S. with ferocity, humor, cutting wit, solid facts, and chilling anecdotes.
The style of this volume is one short, snappy chapter after another. I don't know this, but I guess these chapters began as blog comments and then were built out. She takes on the financial crash, greedy CEOs, the plight of the young and old trying to find work, the way corporations like Walmart (she really skewers Walmart; don't shop there!) exploit their workers, and so forth. Can you imagine Walmart tell its aging "greeters" that they can't have stools anymore? Welcome to the world of cost-cutting at all costs. She also takes a good look at feminism, abortion, gay marriage, and the way in which the Republican party and evangelicals have woven their snake-like way together to produce a truly venomous anti-Christian Christianity. The war in Iraq? As bad as Walmart!
She doesn't say it exactly the way I like to say it, but she makes this point: There is class warfare going on in America but it's not being waged by the poor against the rich, it's being waged by the rich against the poor...and it's all but over. The poor are hardly worth bothering about. The rich are now out to squeeze the Chinese, Indians and Vietnamese. Our middle class got a flat tire in the seventies and we've been running on the rim ever since. She even points out that the wealth gap between CEOs and their number #3 executives has spread. Pity the #3s. A fellow told me last week about one of his neighbors who had a mid-to-high level job at Blue Shield/Blue Cross in North Carolina and earned $350,000 a year. He said to her, "What do you do?" She told him. He said, "Hell, I could do that." She said, "You probably could." So Ehrenreich suggests we reform the health care system by outsourcing it to the Third World. This would mean those overpaid executives would be out of work, and our fine doctors and nurses would have to practice in Mexico and Thailand, but we'd save a bundle.
I don't want to try to out-Ehrenreich Ehrenreich, but I'd like to close this note with a confession. I already knew most of what she wrote. I think that's true of a lot of thinking Americans. What's puzzling is that we understand exactly the four or five major tragedies that led to our current difficulties, and yet it's so hard to make that the dominant theme of the day. At the moment the Republicans in the House of Representatives may help us change that by shutting down the government in their effort to defund Obamacare. I don't want to see the government shut down, but if it brings the temple of greed crashing upon the right wingers' heads, let it fall.
For more of my comments on contemporary writing, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle.)
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