Citizen, taxpayer, consumer, worker: no wonder people get so freaking confused.

So, I’m a consumer, a taxpayer, a worker (retired now), a voter, a citizen…all of these statuses contradict each other in one-way or another.  As a citizen, I get to vote every 4 years or so (woopty- doo) to elect people who are supposed to represent our political interests and pass laws to protect us all and provide a legal framework for acceptable individual conduct.  But, the government (our elected representatives) is dedicated to creating a prosperous and wealthy country and so their goal is to create economic development.  All other goals, for the government, are secondary to or support the first goal.  Kicking the shit out of the Employment Insurance scheme and skimming money from it to general revenue is a goal in support of economic development.

Economic development, of course, means private corporate enterprise.  So the government sees its prime goal as the support and driver of the private corporate agenda.  So we get to vote for the government every four years or so to represent our political/economic interests by promoting, encouraging and subsidizing private corporations so that they can, as the ideology goes, create wealth for all of us.  But there’s a problem here because as workers we suck away at private profit by actually getting paid to work.  Now that’s a problem for private corporations and the government.  Private corporations are dedicated to reducing the costs of labour because they’re a drag on profits.  That means using technology to replace workers as much as possible or reducing the value of their labour (as in McDonaldization).  Governments support that process in countless ways.  One way is by slowly and gradually, one project at a time, encouraging the use of foreign temporary workers or moving manufacturing and some services overseas where the wages are much lower.  As an aside, I read all the time in the newspapers about the ascendency of China with its huge cheap labour force and manufacturing capacity when in fact, it’s not so much China that’s ascended but American, European, Australian, Korean, Japanese and Canadian manufacturers that have set up shop in export processing zones in poor countries all over the world and especially China that account for the growth of the ‘Chinese’ economy.  What we’re seeing here is a leveling out of the value of labour globally.  Chinese workers are steadily getting higher and higher wages (by demanding them backed by lots and lots of labour unrest) while we are on a race to the bottom with our government telling us that we make too much money and that’s why Canada is not competitive.  What a load of crap!  In any case, back to my main theme keeping in mind that as workers we are apparently a burden on corporate profits and all the benefits we receive, including decent pensions are completely unreasonable.  The more I hear these stupid arguments the more I think that the government and corporations would like all of us to be making minimum wages…if that did happen, kiss goodbye to corporate profits because we wouldn’t be able to shop anymore, even at Walmart and they’d have to build bigger bridges so we would all have space to live under them.  What a cheerful prospect! So as citizens, we support governments that support our bosses who would like to get rid of us as workers because we’re too expensive but as I point out, lower wages mean lower profits in the long run.  So how are we doing as consumers?  Well, read on.

On CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio a few weeks ago we heard the President and CEO of the Credit Counseling Society of Victoria exhorting people to avoid getting into debt.  Apparently, we (Canadians) are in more personal debt (not counting mortgages) than in most countries. (at last count about 164% of income)  Well, I think that’s good advice.  By all means stay out of debt.  At the same time, however, we (at home here) get calls every day from credit granting organizations like banks urging us to borrow more and more.  They offer low interest rates and long repayment terms.  Not only that, but we face a daily barrage of exhortations to buy, buy, buy.  Cars, furniture, electronics, software, music.  How can we resist?  We need to feel good about ourselves.  We need to get the high we get when we buy things (more on this in a future post). And to compound the matter we get ‘consumer confidence’ numbers on our daily stock market reports. When consumers stop buying it’s bad for the economy, don’t you know.  So do we go with the banks or the Credit Counselling Society and Marc Carney’s Bank of Canada?  Obviously we buy things and get into more and more debt.  So as consumers of commodities, even debt (which has become a commodity), we are really doing our job.  The tipping point will come, however, when the margins we have between personal debt and the ability to repay get so squeezed that we must collapse, not only as individuals but as a society.

Of course, as a worker, I get paid and taxed on my income.  That makes me a taxpayer.  There’s even an organization in Canada called the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation (CTF) that is supposed to be protecting us against our governments spending too much money on useless things.  Of course their definition of useless is not my definition of useless, but there you go.  It’s almost as if the CTF seems all the money governments spend on programs etc. as money stuffed into a toilet bowl or down an empty well or mineshaft never to be seen or used again.  The reality is that governments spend money, wisely or not, and that money gets circulated in ‘the economy.’  I was a college instructor for 36 years.  During that time I made pretty good money and it mostly came from taxpayers via the provincial government.  I paid taxes 0n my income and on my property…all of it going to support businesses and local government infrastructure and programs.  So as a worker I paid taxes but got some of that money back in exchange for teaching all those years.  My wages and taxes (now my pension and taxes) go to support business and government.  As a resident of BC and Vancouver Island in particular, I want to see good, well-maintained roads (cleared of snow at the moment) and for that I have to pay.  Every cent the government spends goes somewhere. Ask the contract snow-clearing guy if he thinks the government should spend less.  The more I get paid the more I can pay back to support this kind of thing.  But it seems that the CTF wants us to pay lower taxes so we can presumably contribute more to corporate profits by buying more burgers and fries.  The truth is that governments spend strategically and because of commitments to ongoing contracts have only a certain margin of cash to play with.  They frantically need us to believe their bullshit ideology so we go on seeing ourselves in fragmented ways as either citizens, taxpayers, workers, or consumers.  We are all of those statuses combined in ways that cannot be profitably seen in isolation.  Think about it next time you hear someone ranting about spending way too much money on taxes or about goddamn union members making way too much money and sitting on their asses all day long.

To summarize, it seems we spend too much money and that puts us in terrible personal debt.  We also don’t spend enough money and that’s bad for ‘the economy.’  We get paid way too much (which allows us, of course, to spend so much) and pay way too much in taxes but are dependent on those very taxes to keep government subsidies to business high.   We vote every four years within a system that guarantees the preeminence of corporate profits, much of that going to weakening our national sovereignty.  In that way we continue to weaken our own position as workers or as members of a community with common interests.  Divide and conquer is and has been government policy for decades.  As citizens, we’re supposed to be in charge, but our role there is contradicted by our role as workers because we are a drag and an impediment to corporate profits with our high wages and corporate profits are the main concern of government.  It’s all pretty crazy.  More later.