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Metro Detroit Greens (Wayne, Oakland & Macomb Counties)

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Their Economy - and Ours

by Art Myatt

According to both the Republicans and the Democrats, "the economy" is doing amazingly, almost miraculously well. The differences between them are about whose policies should get the credit for all this well-being, and what is the best way to keep it rolling right along.

It must be true, because every network commentator is in substantial agreement, whether the network is CNBC or PBS or NPR. And the print commentators say the same, from the front pages of theWall Street Journal to the editorial page of the Chillicothe Gazette.

If you are looking at the recent history of the stock market, it is obviously, unarguably true. Stock prices on the average are ten times higher than they were thirty years ago. A company unknown thirty years ago has secretaries who are millionares because they took stock options instead of bonuses. A company that did not exist even ten years ago made its founder a billionaire. The numbers and the stories tell you that, by God, it is a wonderful world and a wonderful time to be alive. Endless opportunity, so much growth yet to come, and so on, and on.

This economy is inhabited by those who benefit from corporate profits and international trade, those lucky enough to ride the wave. Nice image, but it is hardly the whole truth.

For instance, you can also look at real wages. In America, the majority experienced a drop of 29 percent in real wages between 1970 and 1995. The median income is now about 7 percent better than it was in 1973, even with all the dot-com millionaires included. For every dot-com millionaire, there have been a dozen or a hundred people who have seen their wages slip and slide and lurch lower because of layoffs and cutbacks in steady work at a decent wage.

The consequence, for ordinary people, is that both partners in a couple now normally have jobs. Temporary jobs are common. Second jobs are also common, with many of these being part-time. Some people have to piece together a living with several part-time jobs. And even those lucky ones who have, for the moment, good jobs at decent pay should know better than to feel secure.

There are the 44 million (about 1/6th of the population) that have no health insurance, plus the many millions more who think they have health insurance until they try to get the carrier to pay for medical treatment. There are those who depend on social security and Medicare to get by. There are those who have to choose between buying food and heating or cooling their rooms. There are the gangs, petty criminals, homeless, hopeless, unemployed, imprisoned.

While "the economy" has been doing so great, there is a huge number of people - perhaps a majority - in it who have not. It is tempting to think of the rest of us as being in some other economy entirely. In reality, there is no "second" economy; there is only one. But there is so much reality that does not fit with the idea of a healthy and prosperous economy, one almost has to imagine another economy just to comprehend it.

Anyone living near a decent-sized city can see these two economies plainly, just by taking a little drive. In Detroit, for example, start at the intersection of Jefferson and Woodward, the very center of the old city. Drive straight up Woodward to Opdyke Road, and then continue on Opdyke out past the Palace of Auburn Hills. Saturday, with light traffic, it may not even take a full hour.

You'll see former neighborhoods whose burned and rotting shells of houses appear to be the result of a war. You'll see occasional depopulated stretches where a block or two of buildings have been levelled entirely; the new urban desert. On your right as you pass through Highland Park is the historical hulk of the original Ford factory. You'll see neighborhoods where the stores and houses have been turned into cages by the addition of bars and gates.

And then there are the somewhat worn but pleasant older suburbs, with lively-looking streets and very few empty or boarded-up storefronts. Then the prosperous and upscale community of Birmingham comes into view. Next are the lush estates and private schools of Bloomfield Township. Near the end of the route are the glittering regional entertainment and shopping centers where everything is always a pleasure for people who always have money.

It is one strip of road in one state, but what a difference there is between the places and people that benefit from the business boom and the rest, ignored or discarded by the corporate world. There is a racial element to this, though not all of the impoverished are Black. Neither do Whites occupy all the politically and financially powerful positions. In between, physically and socially, are the working and middle-classes, essential to the corporate system but not especially well-rewarded by it.

The next time you hear how well "the economy" is doing, or how "upward wage pressures" threaten to screw it up, you'll know exactly which economy is being discussed. It is the one in which corporate profits and stock prices are everything; in which equality, social justice and a healthy environment are nothing. It is the one in which the chance of prosperity is supposed to compensate for the odds of impoverishment. It is the image that covers up and perpetuates the ugly realities.

The Green Party is trying to express and realize the needs of ordinary human beings caught up in the real economy. We are working in the electoral arena. We recognize that many other individuals and organizations are doing the same work in other ways and in other arenas.

If you think we should be doing better, then show us how. Bring your ideas and energy to our meetings, or write to us, or work on the problems in some other way. Speak up; stir things up; but don't just lay back and expect us, or anybody, to make things better without your efforts.

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