The wealthy often complain when sane and reasonable minds point out the dangers and reality of the obscenely class-stratified nature of U.S. society.
These complaints often find expression in such phrases as the following:
“There go those radical leftists playing the class struggle card again.”
“These radical leftists just want to punish success in America.”
“Why do these radical leftists want to foster divisions among us by talking about class struggle? The wealthy are great examples of what can happen for people in America if they work hard.”
And, of course, as I suggest through my examples, anyone who wants to even broach issues of the gross income inequality and class stratification characterizing U.S. society is, of course, automatically branded a “radical leftist,” as though such a label is sufficient to disarm serious intellectual engagement with our class realities.
A look at recent reporting by CNBC’s Maggie Fitzgerald regarding an annual outlook report from J.P Morgan’s private bank to its wealthy clients, for whom it manages $2.2 trillion, reveals the reality of competing class interests—of class struggle—in America and the complete lack of concern for the economic prospects of average working Americans—and even an antagonism to the average working American’s well-being if it any way impacts their ability to accumulate even more excessive wealth.
Moreover, this report reveals the bank’s support for a Trump agenda that protects the money of the wealthy, even if it not creating a healthy economy that improves the economic status of all.
Fitzgerald, indeed, summarizes a major thrust of the report as forecasting that “a presidential victory from a radical leftist candidate” as “among the biggest threats to their money in 2020.”
Notice that the “radical leftist candidate” was not characterized as a threat to the economy or economic health of the American working-class majority but rather as a threat to the money of the wealthy. These are two very distinct animals.
According to Fitzgerald, Michael Cembalest, chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, declared “a progressive overhaul of the U.S. economy after the election” as among the most significant threats to their wealth.
Elements of this overhaul mentioned in the report, according to Fitzgerald, included a ban on stock buybacks, increased corporate tax rates, collective bargaining and a break-up of big tech as distinct possibilities.
In short, the report defines as perils to the wealthy such conditions as workers having more democratic rights in the workplace and more bargaining leverage in negotiating wages and benefits, or corporations, such as Amazon, actually paying some taxes to support the infrastructure that makes its success possible.
Basically, the kinds of economic policies that would foster a healthy economy that functioned to improve the lots of all are precisely what J.P. Morgan’s private sees as threats, as unwelcome developments, when it comes to protecting the $2.2 trillion it manages for its wealthy clients.
The report makes clear that the bank’s objectives, in serving its wealth clients, is to work and wish against the policies and developments that would actually improve the lives of the majority of Americans.
It seems class struggle is alive and well in our clearly class-stratified America. J.P. Morgan certainly thinks so, identifying the class interests of its wealthy clients as at odds with the economic interests of wage-earners.
Indeed, while the report suggests that “wage inflation” could pose a risk as well to the wealth of the bank’s clients, it finally dismissed inflation as a major concern because of the “decline in labor bargaining power, the increased speed of retail price readjustments, [and] the impact of globalization on wages.”
No worries, dear wealthy, workers are losing bargaining power and global competition is driving down wages, so we don’t have to be concerned about any improvement in their economic well-being or about them having any more power or voice to exercise in the spirit of democracy.
What can the majority of Americans learn from this report?
How, precisely, to read.
By which I mean how to read their political and economic interests when confronted by the texts our political and economic leaders issue every day.
Most illuminating in this regard, perhaps, is Douglass’ account in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass of his learning to read, or perhaps more precisely his learning of the importance of reading when his master forbids his wife to teach him precisely because “it would forever unfit him to be a slave,” to play his role as worker in the class system of slavery.
Douglass recounts the moment when his master scolds his wife for teaching him to read and his concomitant “new and special revelation,” of his political interests, as he comes to understand the denial of literacy as part of “the white man’s power to enslave the black man.” He becomes confident that what the master is saying is true and that the result of the slave’s achievement of literacy will in fact be in some measure the undoing of the system of slavery itself.
Douglass represents reading not just as an act of assimilating the meaning of words but as an act of discerning, of grasping, one’s political and economic interests. Douglass doesn’t learn to read the same way his master does but rather reads the master’s statements negatively to decipher the reality of his situation and his political and economic interests, such that we see that ways of reading are politicized and differentially conditioned by one’s position in the larger social power structure.
“What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was a great good, to be diligently sought.”
Reading J.P. Morgan’s report, we can decipher what that bank most dreads, the American majority should most desire.
Could it be that a “progressive overhaul of the economy” by a “radical leftist” candidate might deliver economic policy that serves the American majority, even if it doesn’t protect the rich’s money?
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.