Joys of Joblessness, Wages of Excess

by Robert S. Becker

Apparently, if you believe the mass media, this Great Recession isn't so bad, it's no national tragedy, no generational plague. When viewed from the top down, this healthy downturn "will improve all of our lives by bringing us back to the original vision of the American Dream." In the meantime, hard times cleanse debtors and clear books: thus, mystical free markets self-balance, punishing those lovers of excess and betrayers of contracts.

Implied verdict: blame consumer spendthrifts for toppling our shining city on the hill. Rich people, not so much.

The media loves tough love that regains transcendent virtues: self-control, family togetherness, even, brace yourself, Yankee introspection. This Sunday CNN blessed us with its Pollyanna sermonette, profiling a perky Bernie Madoff survivor happier than ever. She's not bitter towards this thug, awash instead in wise acronyms, like SNT - Stop Negative Thinking.

Unfortunately, empty platitudes don't wash away unarguable research testifying joblessness and foreclosure can kill, with an array of anxiety disorders sharpened by depression, addictive and abusive behavior, divorce, even suicide - none an endorsement for positive thinking. Note, those justifying pain, always have jobs.

Mass Media, By and For the Elite

Failed breadwinners face a triple whammy - thinking themselves losers, self-esteem plummets, then it hits them: without any chips, no playing the American Dream game. The jobless will not find solace from biased "news reports" from ABC, such as "Is the American Dream Dead -- or Just in Hiding?" Subtitled, revealingly, "Cutting Back on the Excess of the Boom Years Might Not Be so Bad, Some Families Discover."

Can the American Dream, the stuff of national mythology, die? Even hide-out for long? Not with redemption looming, though we first must identify the real, underlying cause. Not capitalism or corporations or bankers, not government. The sole culprit is, oddly enough, the worst victim: greedy consumers who wanted it all, naturally trapped in the abyss of "excess." Which proves, per Glenn Greenwald, "the prime function of establishment journalism in the U.S. - to uncritically amplify the views of those who wield political power."

The People's Enemy: the People

But family is the largest unit of blame in ABC's world, especially those whose forced corrections "actually made their lives better:"

Instead of take-out dinners in front of the TV, the Berkleys now cook their own meals from garden-grown vegetables and eat together around the table...gym workouts have been replaced by runs together through nearby Balboa Park. The Berkleys discovered that what they've lost in the economic downturn hasn't been nearly as valuable as the time that they've gained together as a family.

Get the scold here: unspeakable excesses (weekly pizza?) sabotaged togetherness; in this morality play junk food and passivity are routed by healthy (free) exercise and cooking home-grown food, just like rural 19th Century. Why I declare: this family sounds better off AFTER the downturn. If virtue blooms from mere recession, why not bring on depression so ABC can ferret out even more inspirational miracles? Thus, the recession brings back "the original vision of the American Dream, first spelled out in 1931 by author James Truslow Adams, who described 'that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man.'"

Hallelujah! All for one and one for all. Whenever mythological treachery is afoot, trust reactionaries from the Old School, here devoutly Catholic Peggy Noonan, to talk pie-in-the-sky, "the economic downturn will allow a lot of people to give up a moving-forward-getting-more lifestyle that was leaving them feeling empty anyway . . .[the Dream isn't] let's go materially crazy."

Really? Actually, this mythic dream is solely about earthly security, peppered with home ownership, steady income, college savings and retirement ease. Well, snap my suspenders - to learn, after all, the American Dream is not about this world, not about a garage full of stuff, but a spirit full of fullness? So, the comfort-obsessed good life is having so much we can discover a "backward-moving, getting-less" model?

Introspection Is Us

ABC then recasts the Great Recession as the "Great Reset," with Reverend Economist sermonizing, "what's good about a reset is that it's a period of introspection . . . to organize your family. We know that spending time together, eating meals together are what create true happiness in life." So, chronic workaholics, and part-time TV-sports and survivor show addicts, should nurture "introspection" from utter disaster, finding at last this key to "true happiness"? On what planet? Hard enough imagining W. writing a book (he is), let alone this mania for national introspection. Try this tripe on Tea Baggers.

What we got here is the old religious con job: no pain, no gain. Suffering equals virtue. Conviction that work is salvation ends up getting to that very threshold, if you renounce materialism. Yet if failure and sacrifice are so relentlessly character-building, why are crooked bankers immune, in every way too big to fail? Can't the super-rich learn from hard falls from grace - and affluence? Apparently not, says our government and corporate media, seconded by every unindicted CEO criminal still at large - still living large.

We have it all backwards, crabbing about huge bank bonuses. This mass media makes it sound like thank you notes from the penitent are in order. If God didn't intend His chosen to prosper, He'd have picked someone else. Consider hundreds torn from retirement, Walmart greeters who welcome the contrite, luxury-loathing Berkleys back into the fold.

Just Say No to Negative Thinking

One final mystery: how can the super-rich be really happy, without suffering and introspection, bogged down by jewelry, mansions, and Hummers? Did God change His mind, that modern camels can squeeze through that needle's eye? Maybe moguls today are smaller, or heavenly needles larger.

All campers, Stop that Negative Thinking, spreading delusions that recession is about punishment, or bad luck, certainly not systemic, financial weapons of mass destruction. Positive thinkers see adversity as the one last, great chance for redemption, not dying a pauper, instead showing sneering father-in-laws who's no loser. SNT, live in the present, and work on introspection.

Now, if we could only innovate the next Internet craze, create the site "" Figure how to charge by the hour. After all, only money and success separates the CEO of Goldman Sachs from downtrodden masses.

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