Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Even More Anger

The anger meme continues to percolate along. The pressure builds. Do try and pay attention to the language used by the reporters and their editors who filter these events for your consumption. Look for patterns of words or phrases to see where the infotainment industry is trying to channel the socionomic waves of anger and pessimism that are part of this rising tide of negative mood.

Angry workers hold Caterpillar executives hostage in France
PARIS, France (CNN) — Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar office, were holding executives of the company hostageTuesday, a spokesman for the workers said.

The incident started Tuesday morning at the office of the construction equipment company in the southeastern city of Grenoble.

The workers were angry that Caterpillar had proposed cutting more than 700 jobs and would not negotiate with the crestfallen workers, said NicolasBenoit, a spokesman for the workers’ union...
Uncertainty, angst roll on for U.S. auto workers
By Soyoung Kim
DETROIT (Reuters) - Tom Budimerovich and thousands of other Detroit auto workers went to work on Monday hoping for answers about the fate of their jobs and their industry.

Instead, they got uncertainty as the Obama administration prepared to send General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC through a more wrenching restructuring. "The wait is driving us crazy," said Tom Budimerovich, 38, an assembly-line worker at Chrysler's Warren truck plant...

...Auto workers represented by the United Auto Workers union, many of whom campaigned for Obama, were angry that the government appeared to be taking a tougher line on the automakers than on banks and financial companies like insurer American International Group.

"They gave all the money to AIG without any problems and we are still scared for our lives," said Dan Hodgson, who has been working at Chrysler's Warren
plant for 10 years...
Will there be blood?
A WEEK or so ago America was seized by a spasm of fury over the bonuses paid to executives at AIG, a troubled insurance company. Across the country Americans were enraged that people who had helped to cause the financial meltdown were being rewarded for their incompetence. And Washington responded in kind.

Congressmen queued up before the television cameras to tell everybody how upset they were. Larry Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, described the bonuses as
“outrageous”. Even Barack Obama tried to drop his ultra-cool persona to say how “angry” he was. The House voted overwhelmingly to impose a 90% tax on such bonuses...

...This economic populism is made particularly potent by the long-term decline of faith in American institutions. The General Social Survey has been polling Americans about their confidence in major institutions (among other things) since 1972. The preliminary data for 2008 show a marked drop in confidence in every American institution since 2000 except military ones and education. The proportion of people expressing “a great deal of confidence” fell from 30% in 2000 to 16% in 2008 for big business, from 30% to 19% for banks, from 29% to 20% for organised religion, from 14% to 11% for the executive branch and from 13% to 11% for Congress. It was up, to 52%, for the armed services. These figures are the stuff that nasty movements are made of.

Populism poses serious problems for both political parties, not least because the very institutions which they spend their lives squabbling over are some of the least respected in the country, just above television and the press. The danger for Mr Obama and the ruling Democrats is that the administration is relying heavily on private investors and Wall Street banks to implement its various rescue plans. This inevitably means rewarding some of the people who were responsible for the crisis. The president hopes that his budget will channel destructive anger into support for his policies. But he could also find his administration blown off-course or even swept aside by popular outrage...

The Economist is hinting around a topic that will prove vitally important over the coming years, in my opinion. Which insititutions will survive with their legitimacy intact and which will be swept away? If those swept away include the State, what will replace it? When it appears that Crony Capitalists have co-opted the federal government, that precious magic of legitimacy can erode like a sand castle agains the tide.

I'm not sure which way things will tumble, but do keep an eye on the edifice of government and social institutions that we've all taken for granted our entire lives. Imagine what it would be like if 80% of them were gone, or feeble shadows of their current selves, in five years. How would your life change?

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