Saturday, November 5, 2011

A second post about Wente

I have read this article by Margaret Wente a few times over now, and I am still trying to put together exactly how horrible I think it is. In this post, I am going to respond rather directly to her arguments, although most of them are so absurd that I don't think it is all that necessary, and I will soon write a post about the broader implications of these neoliberal attitudes, especially with respect to single mother students, which, coincidently, is directly related to my thesis research.

The article is about how I am representative of Occupy Toronto (funny, since I have been critical of the movement here and here, but how would she know that, not making any effort to contact me... and I'm not even from Toronto), and it is condemning me personally for getting a degree in sociology, for being a single mother, and for wanting to find work that would involve helping the poor at the expense of the rich.

First of all, according to wikipedia, Wente was born into a wealthy family. She is the 1% (possibly even the 0.01%). It is no wonder that she is fighting back against a movement that is questioning the idea of wealth.

Also, she has a master's degree in English from the University of Toronto... how is that any different from my degree in sociology? Are there lineups of jobs for English majors? If so, can you point me in that direction because I have a few friends in that field who have been looking for work (as well as fields like mechanical engineering, which she indicates is a better option for people looking for work). Or is it ok for her to get an arts degree because she is independently wealthy?

She writes
[I am] in a fix. But I can’t help wondering whether she, and not the greedy Wall Street bankers, is the author of her own misfortune. Just what kind of jobs did she imagine are on offer for freshly minted sociology graduates? Did she bother to ask?

Yes, in fact, I did. Moving to sociology from social work was a decision that took me more than a year to come to. I am afraid to think about what the world would be like if everyone in the critical parts of social sciences and humanities decided to (was forced to) abandon their degrees because jobs might be hard to come by... it would be like Orwell's 1984! Or if arts degrees were only attainable to those who sought to uphold the status quo.

I think it is absolutely crucial that we have people earning degrees in sociology, political science, philosophy, history, english, as well as other critical disciplines. I believe what is learned in these disciplines is more important than ever right now, as neoliberal views (such as her own) bombard the media and try to get us all to think like business majors bent on helping wealthy corporations profit at our own expense.

I also really don't care that a lot of the job opportunities available are funded by the government. It's as if she doesn't realize that the money spent on these jobs (or that used to be spent, might be more apt) is money that comes from all of us, not just herself and her wealthy friends.

She refers to me as the "virtueocracy"

The class of people who expect to find self-fulfillment (and a comfortable living) in non-profit or government work, by saving the planet, rescuing the poor and regulating the rest of us. They are what the social critic Christopher Lasch called the “new class” of “therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy.”

First of all, I resent being referred to as a cop in any form, but that is definitely not the biggest problem with this article. I am not sure why rescuing the poor has to come at the expense of regulating the rest of us. What about the ways that the rich are becoming richer at the expense of regulating the rest of us? Just look at the housing crisis in the US or the banking industry more generally.

Wente was right about one thing - she writes that "this social model no longer works". It doesn't- neither the neo-liberal model that she is advocating for, nor the "liberal democracy" in which we have been living. Both have failed. But without the theory and knowledge that comes from disciplines like sociology (or the social sciences and humanities more broadly), how will we ever be able to see the ways in which the poor are being regulated by the super-rich, and how would we conceive of a way out of this mess? Oh, wait... that's the point.

So, who is to blame for the economic crisis? Luckily for us, she answers this question;
It’s not the greedy Wall Street bankers who destroyed these people’s hopes. It’s the virtueocracy itself. It’s the people who constructed a benefit-heavy entitlement system whose costs can no longer be sustained. It’s the politicians and union leaders who made reckless pension promises that are now bankrupting cities and states. It’s the socially progressive policy-makers in the U.S. who declared that everyone, even those with no visible means of support, should be able to own a home with no money down, courtesy of their government. In Canada, it’s the social progressives who assure us we can keep on consuming all the health care we want, even as the costs squeeze out other public goods.
If my research on single mothers and social policy has taught me anything, it's that we no longer feel entitled to benefits - if we ever did. We feel shamed at every process of applying for benefits, and shamed for working at low-paid jobs, and shamed for not being able to fit into the ideal of the nuclear family through tactics such as Wente's article. But you know who does feel entitled to benefits- corporations through tax breaks and corporate tax cuts. They are not shamed into thinking they are leaching off "the system". And why can the costs of social benefits no longer be sustained? Might it have something to do with the redistribution of wealth?

And Wente, being Wente, has to throw in a dig to the unions, of course. It is always the fault of us high paid unionized employees. The cushy public sector jobs, right? Well, I'm the president of a union local in one of those cushy public sector locals, and about three-quarters of the membership is barely clearing minimum wage, we don't have benefits or pensions - and we all have university degrees! But you know who is making more - upper admin are making as much as 3 to 4 times the salary they did a decade ago. But they don't have a union, so they can't be to blame. It's my fault for bargaining that clause ensuring that we don't have to pay out of pocket for teaching material that is to blame.

We are also blaming the US housing crisis, but not because of "socially progressive policy-makers", but big banks who concocted a scheme that would allow them to make even more money off the poor which is widely believed to be a huge factor in causing this recession! Doesn't it take two people to go into a loan? The borrower only wants to live the "American dream" and provide a home for their family, believing that because they work hard, they will make it soon. The lender knows just how much the mortgage rate will go up, and must know that they won't be able to pay it. I don't know how she can even make this claim in a newspaper.

And, as for health care in Canada, if we were to put more money into the social determinants of health, such as poverty - nutrition, housing conditions, education, etc- we would save on health care in the long run. But putting that same money into wealthy corporations in the form of tax breaks only serves to pad the pockets of people who are already wealthy and has been shown not to create jobs.

Also, when she says that I didn't bring my children to the protest because I was worried about security... what I really said was that I was worried that the police would arrest all of the occupiers and that would traumatize my children. I had no fear AT ALL over their safety with respect to other occupiers. It was the first night of Occupy Toronto and we were not sure whether the police would let us stay in the park overnight. And for the commenters' that asked if my kids were in subsidized daycare when I was protesting... No, they were with family. Funny that their first assumption is that they were at daycare and not the kids' father or something.

The biggest problem that I see with this whole article is that she completely ignores the systemic and structural barriers surrounding the topic.... the entire post is classist and sexist, which is something I will get to in my next post (probably Wednesday).


  1. lol. All of that socially-progressive deregulation of banks. I wish I owned stock in hay, because Wente's use of progressivism as a straw-man be pushing up demand!

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  4. Anonymous (1), great comment!

    Anonymous (2), Thanks! My thesis on access to education for single mother students is more than half written (I hope), but I am thinking that this would make a good forward or introductory chapter - especially if I turn it into a book afterwards. I can still dedicate it to her / blame it on her though!

    Anonymous (3), Thanks! I'm glad I have this blog as a means to get some points across... not that I have the readership of the Globe and Mail, but I think I like my readers better than the people that buy into Wente's crap that passes as journalism!

  5. Ms. Marx,

    The first thing you should acknowledge is that corporations don't pay tax...and they never will.

    Once you understand why this is true (Economics 101 will help), you will also understand why an increase in taxation to corporations will only result in higher prices for the goods and services they produce...the very things the poor (like you) already struggle to afford.

    If you need money, ask your friends or family, or seek out a charity, but please don't depend upon the government. Pleading to a violent and cruel overlord for more handouts granted to you through the application of force to your fellow slaves (citizens) is not a productive solution. I'm surprised more sociologists don't understand claim to be experts in understanding human behaviour. In fact, it is downright greedy, self-serving and wrong of you to endorse government violence toward your peers. Is that really what you want? I'm sure you would describe yourself as a loving, compassionate, caring why are you so supportive of such a cruel institution such as a government? If I could afford to offer you help, I would, but I can't because the government already takes over 50% of every dollar I earn. There's nothing left for me to handout. Government is the enemy, not corporations.

  6. Maybe economics courses teach different things up here in Sudbury than where you took them...

    As for asking my friends and family for money, are you kidding me? It's greedy and self-serving to ask the government that I have been paying taxes to for years to provide for me in the way it agreed to with the supposed "social contract", but it is not greedy for me to call up friends and family asking for money? I haven't paid taxes to my friends and family for the past decade (longer if you count taxes on consumer goods).

    And charities are organizations that are set up to relieve poverty or advance religion or education, or for other purposes beneficial to the community as a whole (as decided upon by those with decision making power to "help" those without access to this kind of power. They operate on the premise that those with money can donate in order to help the “less fortunate.” For their generosity, they often receive a tax exemption- which is not considered to be a form of income support, but this money given directly to poor people themselves would be considered to be a form of income support.

    I believe that what actually happens is that charity becomes a substitute for justice and equality; poverty is acceptable because poor people will not die of starvation when those of us who do have enough food to eat will donate a few cans a year to food banks or will arrange to have leftover food from banquets dropped off at a soup kitchen, or will donate children’s toys for Christmas hampers. What about having access to food in a way that preserves human dignity. As hard as social workers and volunteers at various charities may try to preserve the dignity of their clients, the fact that most operate as charities tends to do just the opposite.

    And do I seem particularly supportive of the government? I am supportive of equality, and in the current social and political context, the government would be the means for redistributing wealth in such a way as to provide for a more equitable way of living for a lot of people, but even that would only be a band aid solution. I am not at all supportive of the government.

  7. No, economics is the same's just not universally understood. I'll spare you the lesson though, you clearly don't care about market dynamics or economics; easier to focus on things like Marxism, feminism, queer theory and community activism...real economic drivers! (Thanks for pulling your weight!)

    You're going to have to help me understand your charity perspective...private charities funded through volunteer donations under no threat of force are bad; but government charity (social programs) funded 100% through force is okay by you because they will help YOU get YOUR hands on some money that you have determined you are entitled to? Do I need to repeat my accusation of self-serving greed? Or can we just settle on "sense of entitlement". And lets presume for a moment that you have paid more in tax than you have taken in social assistance, educational assistance, healthcare, etc in your lifetime (which is total BS, you haven't...just the cost of birthing two children put you in the hole), what happens when you are back to zero? Who's paying for you and your children now...your same friends and family that you don't want to ask for charity, that's who! And so am I. Where I take serious issue with your sense of entitlement is at this point. How do I get MY hands on the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars I have had stolen from me by the government over the years to "reimburse" people like you? Can I have my money redistributed back to me? No, no I can't. I don't want a government insurance policy called taxation where I am guaranteed to come out a loser. That is what redistribution is all about. There's a whole bunch of winners (the free-loaders...that's you); a very few super-rich who don't particularly care about the money (good for them by the way, they deserve it); and a whole bunch of folks like me (the real 99%) losers at the end of the game because we never ask for any of our money back and have our hard earned dollars stolen from us each and every day to fund your pursuit of a Masters in Sociology and a side dish of feminism, community activism and music. Pathetic.

  8. Freddy, I apologize for using your tax dollars to birth my children. That was quite selfish of me. And I am paying for my own children through scholarships, but then, I guess you would argue that scholarships are a handout as well.

    The money is redistributed back to you everytime you see a doctor or drive on a public road. What about your RRSP contributions and other tax breaks? Those are based on what could have been public funds as well. Did you get an education? Elementary school, perhaps? That's public money too! And what if you end up suffering an illness, especially in old age, and don't have the family readily able to care for you...

    I don't think there is any point in arguing with you, because your lapses in logic are as evident as Wente's were in the original article, and it appears as though no amount of evidence would change your libertarian opinions. Have a nice day and I will be sure to enjoy freeloading off your hard-earned cash!