Sunday, July 31, 2022

A Theory of the Covid-Exhausted Leisure Class

 Mere days before a leak of a Bank of America memo calling for more bad times and fewer jobs for Americans, President Joe Biden groveled before this same megabank's CEO, thanking him for accepting his phone calls and seeking his wisdom on the financial health of "his consumers."

"It's good to see you recovering, Mr. President," Brian Moynihan gushed in return, less than two days before a maskless Biden suffered a Covid relapse and had to return to isolated splendor.

Moynihan was one of the few tycoons speaking at the Thursday White House confab who were wise enough to appear remotely, so as to protect themselves from Biden's lurking microbes, while selling the New Normal of forcing people back to in-person work if they want to keep their jobs.

Notice how narrowly Biden restricted the conversation to bank customers, rather than to the financial well-being of everybody - especially the nation's older citizens, who are still getting seriously ill and dying from Covid in disproportionate numbers.. A new study by the UMass Gerontology Institute reveals that at least half of the American seniors living alone are so badly off that they can no longer afford even the basic necessities of life. One-fourth of married retirees also report having trouble paying for even the barest essentials. 

But rule by a gerontocracy controlled by an oligarchy does not mean that geriatric problems register even a blip on their radar.

To the contrary: it soon became apparent at the plutocratic bull session that the only financial needs to be discussed in the White House that day are of those making at least $100,000 a year,

Moynihan explained:

 "At Bank of America, we have, you know, 60 million consumers and 35 million Core Checking accounts for Americans. 
Number one, they’re spending more money.  Through the first 25 days of July 2022, they have spent 10 percent more than they spent in July of 2021, the first 25 days.  And that’s consistent with what we saw in the whole second quarter in earlier this year. The second key point I’d say, Mr. President, is their balances are much higher than they were in the pandemic.  

And so, if you look at people of, sort of, $100,000-income families in our client base, you’ll see that their balances go from three to five to seven times more than they were in the pandemic. 

 The problem for these beleaguered, flush-with-cash people, he added, is not only how to spend all that excess money, but how to be approvingly noticed while doing so. What fun is isolated splendor? What good is money and bling and merch if you cannot also revel in experiences outside of the four walls of your castle?

Now, just because Moynihan had enough smarts to not expose himself to the sick president does not mean that he can't garble his own words every bit as incoherently as the sick president himself. The banker continued,

They bought everything they could — they bought a lot of stuff when they were cooped up at home; they’re now out traveling and experiencing the world due to vaccines and — and the condition of the COVID pandemic.

You have to not only conspicuously consume, you also have to  conspicuously experience the world due to vaccines and the condition of the pandemic, which itself remains deliberately murky because capitalists like him have decreed that cases are no longer counted by the government in any systematic, science-based way. He would have us accept the notion that "the condition of the COVID pandemic" is that notwithstanding the evidence, it has been decreed, out of capitalist necessity,  to be over. He tries to divert attention away from the windfall profits enjoyed by the oligarchs since the pandemic began by pointing to an alleged seven-fold increase in bank deposits of his customers. He is buying into the canard that it was government largesse that made ordinary people suddenly so rich and that it is not corporate greed, but ordinary people, who have contributed to inflation.

 It was the airline industry, remember - not groveling government officials -  which effectively decreed to the CDC this spring that in the interest of profits for the few,  the isolation period of Covid patients must be reduced from 10 days to a meager five.

(CDC is the acronym for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its actual function right now might as well be the Centers for the Prevention of Disease Control. Or, given that oligarchs have enjoyed windfall profits during Covid, maybe even Centers for the Rapacious  Accumulation of Possessions - CRAP).

And that's where Tony Capuano, head honcho of the Marriott hotel chain, came in. Unlike Moynihan, he did not have the wisdom to physically stay away from the "recovered" president; he breathed the very same stale but rarefied air as Joe Biden. There is as of yet no word whether the hotel magnate has contracted the virus as a result of the administration's "let 'er rip" policy.

Capuano's words of wisdom: 

"Well, thank you, Mr. President, for the invitation today.  I think what we’ve learned over the last couple quarters is really the resilience of travel.  And when we look at our forward-booking data, we see real evidence of that resilience."  

 Capuano fulsomely praised the intrepid pioneers of the traveling and "experiencing" class for possessing such wonderful resilience to go along with all that surplus cash. 

It was social scientist Thorstein Veblen who observed more than a century ago, during the first Gilded Age, that it's not enough to be rich in isolation. In order for wealth to have meaning, it must be tastefully flaunted in public, spreading the message to the hoi polloi that wealth is a virtue and a mark of its possessors' good character. This nostrum is precisely why wealthy liberals are so averse to Donald Trump's crude tastelessness, from his outer-Borough speech patterns to, most recently, the gold-plated coffin for his first ex-wife, whose final resting place is a tax dodge of a cemetery plot at his New Jersey golf club. His fellow oligarchs are just fine with his actual policies, including a huge war budget and tax breaks for the wealthy, to name just two.

So in the modern version, for the pandemic-exhausted leisure class, "resilience" is a virtue to be both admired and emulated by the less fortunate. The courage to get out there and insanely but politely thumb your nose at a pestilential catastrophe is the new positive marker of moral character, a trait that we should all aspire to.

The not-so-subliminal message broadcast at last week's White House confab is that if the resilient wealthy can ignore the pandemic with such courage and fortitude, then so should the rest of us. Even if we're barely making it, we can learn to cope. Not so much to experience virtuous leisure - because that ranking connotes that the wealth was earned honestly and was not at all predatory - but to return to virtuous work in person....  preferably at lower wages, of course.

The Bank of America memo, written by one of the financial behemoth's economists, calls for increasing unemployment so as to depress wages  that, while rising somewhat in some niches, can still be considered stagnant. As The Intercept reported, 

The memo expresses distress about “a record tight labor market,” stating that “wage pressures are … going to be hard to reverse. While there may have been some one-off increases in some pockets of the labor market, the upward pressure extends to virtually every industry, income and skill level.

Therefore, the  BOA's CEO bragging to Biden about his customers having as much as seven times the money in their accounts that they did in the pandemic's early days was disingenuous at best, and a warning that the merely well-off are making too much money and got too much government aid at worst. For as hard as it may be to fathom, an estimated one-third of workers who make six-figure salaries actually do live paycheck to paycheck. The cost of living is getting crazy out there, when in some areas even $100,000 doesn't cover rent, gas, clothing and other bills. It's hard out there for the bourgeoisie, whether they be at the petit end or upper end of the top 10 or 20 or 30 percent.

Joe Biden's own crass political message is that the true underclass and the truly needy and  especially the struggling elderly will continue to be ignored on his watch.  This is especially cruel, for as the New York Times reported this past spring, 

Covid deaths, though always concentrated in older people, have in 2022 skewed toward older people more than they did at any point since vaccines became widely available.

That swing in the pandemic has intensified pressure on the Biden administration to protect older Americans, with health officials in recent weeks encouraging everyone 50 and older to get a second booster and introducing new models of distributing antiviral pills.

In much of the country, though, the booster campaign remains listless and disorganized, older people and their doctors said. Patients, many of whom struggle to drive or get online, have to maneuver through an often labyrinthine health care system to receive potentially lifesaving antivirals.

As a senior citizen himself, Biden has not let us forget that at age 79, even with the virus, he is still working hard every single day. Even when he's sick, he feels great, and so should you. He is only in isolation so that other hard-working patriotic "folks" won't also get sick. I don't know about you, but with this kind of neoliberal rhetoric I can absolutely see cuts to Social Security and Medicare looming on the horizon, even as the old "folks" are sickening and dying in such record numbers that the trust funds that we pay into all our working lives are undoubtedly a bit more solvent than they were before the pandemic.

Rather than give more help to struggling people who don't even have the money to get to a free vaccination site, our government tries to force them out of sight and out of mind.

So back to Tony Capuano, the hospitality industry tycoon, who recently bragged on TV that the much higher prices he is charging for his hotel rooms are "sustainable." Whether this is because the globe-trotting Leisure Class is so "resilient" was not mentioned. He did tell Joe Biden that were it not for Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reversing the requirement that all incoming foreign travelers must show proof of vaccination, his coffers would not be so nearly full-to-bursting as they are now. Or, as he finessed his own word salad in the brave new spirit of Universal Leisure Class Resiliency,

"And then when we look on a global basis, the continued opening of borders, the easing of restrictions that restricted travel is having a massive impact on our global business."

Biden himself couldn't seem to stop fixating on the alleged trials and tribulations of the $100,000-plus crowd. He garbled hoarsely,

"One of the things that I find is — I look at and I take it very seriously the confidence level of the American people in the economy.  And they’re so down and they’re looking — there’s reason to be down, but I started thinking about it.  And, Brian, (he of the Bank of America) you and I talked about it just a little bit.

You know, the first year, we were able to, with the — with the Rescue Plan, we were able to send them a check for eight grand.  I mean, a check.  One — and beyond that, by the way; there was more than that.....But when you’re mak- — if you’re making 120 grand and you get a check for 8 grand, that’s a lot of money.  And so it helped save a lot of people, in terms of getting thrown out of their homes and rental housing and a whole range of things."

I don't know anybody who got a check for 8 grand, do you? Biden sent everybody $1400 after promising us two grand, because the evil Donald Trump had beat him to the punch and managed to send out an additional $600 before his first term expired. Some people have speculated that the rescue plan's direct cash aid for children might have caused Biden's brain to create its own magic 8-ball. And anyway, since this cash aid for kids was means-tested and limited to parents making below $75,000, it seems doubtful that his fantasy version of the Down and Outs got any of it.

Biden seems also  to have formed a muddled brain-picture of hordes of Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) denizens being evicted en masse from their McMansions and their luxury condos. And with the price of gas to fill their guzzling SUVs so high, and the long wait for $40,000 battery-powered cars and the dearth of charging stations, is it any wonder that Biden's folks are feeling so stressed out?

I'm curious about just how many people making those paltry low six figures ended up being evicted from their apartments. In yet another sign that Biden doesn't give a fig about truly poor people, the issue of affordable or government-subsidized housing, as well as the need for rent control laws to rein in greedy corporate landlords, was never as much as whispered about at the White House meeting. 

If you aren't solidly middle class or upper middle class, then you might as well not even exist as far as these captains of industry and their political henchmen are concerned.

Perhaps the worst part is that the meeting itself became so boring that, according to the official transcript, the White House press corps "exited" en masse before the bigwigs and various assorted government fawners even got finished garbling amongst themselves. 

Or maybe "exit" is just Leisure Class-speak for getting kicked out so that the thought leaders could freely talk about that secret Bank of America memo and discuss how to better punish the bottom 70 or 80 percent of us who irresponsibly lack the cash just to subsist, let alone wallow in our own resilient world-experiences.


Kat said...

Many so called leftists got in the action by screaming "inflation!".

Mark Thomason said...

When he was first running, I'd nicknamed him "Banker Biden" in many comments. Not a popular position then. I did that due to his longstanding bank connections as a Senator, and his role in the Bankruptcy Bill.

He just proved it again.

Democrats don't want to hear it. Either that, or they really are all just toadies to their donors themselves.

Anonymous said...

@Erik Roth—

I was looking over some of Karen’s older blogs and comments and was gratified to learn that someone other than myself still remembers Art Hoppe, the SF Chronicle’s brilliant satirist/columnist. His was the first thing that I turned to every morning when I still lived in the Bay Area, so long ago.

Sincerely yours,

Pfc. Homer T. Pettibone

Thorstein said...

"You know, the first year, we were able to, with the — with the Rescue Plan, we were able to send them a check for eight grand." So let them eat cake. The doddering old king only knows what his sycophants tell him. The second time as farce. But the third and the fourth times too?

Erik Roth said...

@Annonymous --

My favorite columnist, who also wrote for the SF Chronicle, was Jon Carroll.

The first thing I turn to in the morning news is Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury."
Even with "re-runs" that comic strip still hits hard, strikes deep, and offers sharp wit with keen insight. There's just not enough mirth on earth.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I feel such a sense of doom about the economy. Europe is in BIG trouble this coming winter. Between fuel shortages, grain shortages and the effect of the Russian embargo of fuel affecting industry, we can expect a deep recession in Europe. Then there is the issue of China. The Biden administration along with its colluding partners in the MIT seem hell bent on fighting wars with China, Russia and Iran all at the same time. Not only will this put the last nails in the coffin of the American Empire essentially bankrupting it, it will destabilise a lot of important supply chains. Meanwhile, Americans (and Australians) are shopping as if there is no tomorrow - while the genuinely financially stressed and poor remain in their ghettos, out of sight. They are truly invisible to the duopoly.

As for ignoring the older citizens. I expect deep down inside, they hope they will simply die. They have served their purpose and have outlived their right to Social Security and Medicare. Only the rich older people deserve and unhastened death.

Erik Roth said...

As our bodies become what we eat makes of us, what we consume otherwise shapes our minds.
The junk food served by the corporate media has its purpose and effect, which has been prevalent for many years.
So it comes as a curious anachronism to read Ralph Nader decrying the long, grave decline in the NYTimes at this late date..

To the New York Times – “We Thought We Knew Ye”
August 5, 2022, ~ by Ralph Nader

Patricia M. said...

Valerie - I share your sense of doom - but it is not limited to the economy. My sense of doom is more all encompassing.

At my stage of life - I am an “older citizen” - I’ve come to the realization of just how evil the U.S. Empire really is. I would like to elaborate on this more, but I am typing on an I-Pad and am at a disadvantage. The U.S. Empire includes both parties and neither cares a whit about us - the 90 percent of us, that is.

When I get my computer out of the shop, I would like to elaborate on this message.

I must point out, however, that being an “older citizen” (85 going on 86), even “deep down,” I don’t want to jump ship. I want to stay on living and do what little I can with the time I have left - that is, I want to stay around as long as I can to see what happens, Bad as things are and may be, I don’t want to “simply die.” I’m in that Social Security/Medicare group, by the way. And I agree - it’s not easy. But to give up hope is certainly to die. I understand where you’re coming from, nevertheless, and I always appreciate your comments and other Sardonicky commenters.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Patricia –
I just want to clarify - and I apologise if my words were opaque - when I wrote that "they" (I meant the ruling class - those with the power to effect swift change in the economy) hope "they" (the vulnerable and struggling seniors our economy is leaving behind) will simply die.” I didn't mean to infer this heartless attitude is at all acceptable – rather that the “haves” are becoming more and more heartless.

While there are a couple of decades between us, Patricia, we have both lived long enough to remember a time when the financial divide between the Haves and the Have Nots was much smaller and the very rich were less rich. My father was a surgeon and we lived in the same neighbourhood as a couple other families of doctors, lawyers, teachers, a truck driver, a mechanic, an airline pilot, a bank teller, a bicycle store owner and assorted other jobs. Aside from our house being a little larger and having a pool - which all the neighbourhood kids used - we all had pretty much the same standard of living and both the parents and kids socialised. If someone fell sick or on hard times, there were plenty of people in the neighbourhood to notice and help out. We all knew people who had more and less than we had but it wasn't as if we existed in different worlds. Now, we mostly live in ghettos with our financial equals. My childhood best friend lives in San Francisco with her other millionaire friends who love Obama and discuss their latest real estate acquisitions, the hoity-toity private universities their children are attending and where they will vacation next. They are totally untouched by the misery and fear that those who are affected by inflation and rising rents are experiencing.

I find it very telling that the B of A guy is only looking at the $100,000 a year crowd (and one can assume, much higher incomes than that.) Those people can afford to pay higher prices because they have a large cushion. So, America’s (and Australia’s) 100,000 a year crowd’s addiction to buying continues on, unaffected by inflation.

The vulnerable aging population has is so much better in Australia and the rest of the Developed World. I fear greatly for those I love – and those I don’t know – who are financially insecure in the U.S. I heard a brilliant quote from a man writing about people losing their homes to the bank swindlers of the 2008 crash. He said something to the effect: the difference between the financially vulnerable and the rest of us is that they have no one to turn to when things go bad for them financially. It is so true.