Thursday, January 04, 2007

American Roulette

From the article:

It used to be that when the economy thrived and productivity grew, pay for working people rose accordingly. Yet as the Times reported this past summer, the first six years of the 21st century look to be “the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.”

People have put up with all this because it happened so quickly and for the same reason that the great mass of losers in casinos put up with odds that favor the house: The spectacle of a few ecstatic big winners encourages the losers to believe that, hey, they might get lucky and win, too. We have, in effect, turned the U.S. into a winner-take-all casino economy, substituting the gambling hall for the factory floor as our governing economic metaphor, an assembly of individual strangers whose fortunes depend overwhelmingly on random luck rather than collective hard work. And it’s been unwitting synergy, not unrelated coincidence, that actual casino gambling has become ubiquitous in America at the same time.

It used to be.... I have been thinking this a lot lately. And the metaphor of the casino is one I have been thinking about, too. As more Native American tribes here in Oklahoma open up casinos as a means of partially funding their governments, I drive by them and think "this is what it is coming to: the only way that a lower or middle class person can hope to break out is to win a jackpot at a casino or win the lottery." Thrift and hard work are being discouraged.

Let me give an example of what I mean: you work for a company all your life only to find out that the money you expected in retirement has been paid to the executives who then have driven the company into bankruptcy. As a result, you lose your health care and pension benefits that you worked for your whole life. I can see someone looking at that situation thinking "what's the point? I'm not ever going to see my retirement anyway. I might as well take my chances at the casino; the odds are better."

It's a Values question. Are we going to encourage people to work, or aren't we? If we reach a point where people think that they have better chances at a casino, they'll probably go there.

Somewhat OT: By the way, as I also do Native American law, and I regularly go on Tribal complexes. I can also tell you that some tribes have put the casino money to work, while others are not proceeding so quickly. I may elaborate on this point at some time in the future, but for now I will keep my thoughts private.

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