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It’s the Narrative, Stupid!

Research & Commentary
April 06, 2015

by Larry Checco

A master economic narrative, financed by big business, shamelessly controls our politics.

By Larry Checco

The prevailing narrative about the economy is financed by big, well-heeled special interest groups.

The prevailing American narrative about the economy is financed by big, well-heeled special interest groups.

Ever ask yourself why low- and moderate-income voters would elect politicians who consistently reduce taxes on the wealthiest while also slashing public programs and services that benefit the vast majority of Americans, especially the least economically and socially advantaged?

I have. And just recently the answer came to me: It’s not the economy; it’s The Narrative, stupid!

It’s the Narrative that’s been steadily drummed into our heads for decades. But instead of advancing us as a nation, it has warped our sense of the American Dream and taken perverse advantage of our nature to be optimistic.

It’s a Narrative that says if you can’t make it in this country, it’s your fault, not the system’s. It’s exclusionary, not inclusive. You’re either a taker, or a maker.

It’s a Narrative that is reinforced when someone like Senator Marco Rubio can say that America has “never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves”—never once mentioning that the trickle-down theory he and his ilk so cherish has had more than 30 years to work but has failed miserably!

It’s a Narrative that is disingenuously bolstered when columnist George Will writes an op-ed piece titled, “Income inequality is good”—that’s right, income inequality is good—and goes on to say that “Americans…get a raise when they shop at the stores that made Sam Walton a billionaire.” Will never once mentions that in 2012 Forbes reported that just six Walmart heirs have as much wealth as 42 percent of all Americans!

Or, better yet, that a significant percentage of Walmart employees rely on taxpayer funded social services just to make ends meet. This is corporate welfare at its best—or worst!

It’s a Narrative that says let’s ignore the folks on Wall Street who make millions, and who gave themselves $28.5 BILLION in bonuses in 2014 for their good, honest, hard work. And lest we forget, these are the folks who nearly destroyed our economy seven years ago.

Instead, let’s focus our attention on those greedy teachers who make a whopping $60K a year to educate and care for our kids in so many other ways, and let’s now reward them by stripping away their collective bargaining rights.

It’s a Narrative legitimized by ostensibly one of our most venerated institutions, the U.S. Supreme Court, when it ruled that corporations are the same as people and that money equates to free speech—which, if honestly interpreted, means that wealthy people get to buy a lot more “free” speech than the rest of us.

It’s a Narrative that turns a blind eye to cannibalistic capitalism— such as pernicious payday lending practices, horrendous subprime home mortgage loans, revolving credit card debt that never gets reduced, and so on. ALL of which are “legal” (but ethical, not so much) and end up devouring people’s ability to get ahead financially.

It’s a Narrative financed by big, well-heeled special interest groups that shamelessly purchase our politicians on both sides of the aisle. (You’d be hard pressed to convince me that if you financed my political campaign to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars that I wouldn’t feel that I owed you “something” when your Armani-clad lobbyists come knocking on my congressional door.)

Okay, stop, you say.

A lot of people don’t necessarily only vote their pockets, but vote their social conscience, as well. They’ve bought into that part of The Narrative that says we live in “a culture of life.” They’re for strong family values and against contraceptive birth control and abortions, even when a woman has been raped.

Then these same voters should inform those they elect that life doesn’t end at birth. These very same kids they want so badly to enter into the world need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, given health care and a proper chance to succeed in this great nation of ours.

In his latest book, “Our Kids”, the Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam, who also gave us “Bowling Alone,” argues that kids who live in families in which parents are not college educated are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to economic and social upward mobility, and that ever-widening income inequality only exacerbates the situation.

Putnam: “Universal early childhood education offers a high payback rate.” But I would argue that it’s just these types of programs The Narrative says we need to cut to help balance the federal or state budget.

The saddest part of this entire Narrative is that our unique brand of optimism keeps us in check, keeps us from changing The Narrative.

Most Americans believe our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but 60 percent believe that most people can make it if they are willing to work hard, according to Pew Research. Other research tells us that Americans far overestimate the amount of upward mobility that actually exists in our society.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) says “the game is rigged.”I’ll go one step further and say that many of our citizens have bought the rigging—hook, line and sinker. That’s why we’re trapped in it.

We need to change the rigging and correct The Narrative if we have any hope of this ship of state sailing into the 21st century in a way that benefits all on board, not just those merrily floating along in first class.

And we better do it before this ship runs aground.

Larry Checco is the president of Checco Communications and a columnist for Accountability Central, where he writes on economics, politics, and income inequality. He holds a degree in Economics from Syracuse University and an MA in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University.

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