More on Labor, Sports, and Wealth Distribution

The NFL owners and players are sitting down with a mediator to try to work out a labor agreement (the current one expires March 3). Today the first vague report of “some progress” has trickled out about the negotiations, which have otherwise provided a strange and silent backdrop to the labor unrest taking shape in states across the U.S. Millionaires and billionaires locked in a room in New York haggling over how to divvy up a 10-billion-dollar pie, while teachers and workers in Wisconsin fight for the right merely to do what they’re doing — sit down and negotiate.

See the irony there?

I predict the following: The mediator will arrive at a compromise that involves an 18-game regular season, which nobody but the owners wants — players have legitimate concerns about the injury toll such a season would take; most fans sympathize with that, and they don’t want to have to pay the bump for season tickets, and additionally simply believe it’s too long.* But the owners want it, it will grow the size of the pie, and in the end that’s all that matters.

*I also think fans don’t like the idea of the hash this would make of single-season records. There’s a rightness to 16 games that puts certain milestones in the proper degree of difficulty: 2,000 yards rushing, 50 touchdown passes, etc. Eighteen games obliterates all that.

Nevertheless, I believe the owners will still want more concessions. They will not simply get up from the bargaining table, accept the mediator’s decision, and shake hands and light cigars. It will then come down to whether the hard-core of owners who want to crush the union completely win out over those who are satisfied with, say, 47% of the 10 billion rather than 48%. And so there will be a lockout.

Meanwhile, the above graph is from a series of illustrations in Mother Jones that shows the incredible disparity in wealth that has burgeoned ever wider over the past couple generations. It perfectly captures Slavoj Žižek‘s summary of Benedict Anderson‘s idea about “imagined communities.” As he explains in a footnote to the first chapter of Enjoy Your Symptom!:

When, with the advent of capitalism, the symbolically structured “community” was replaced by the “crowd,” community became in a radical sense imagined: our “sense of belonging” does not refer anymore to a community we experience as “actual,” but becomes a performative effect brought about by the “abstract” media … Let us recall Stuart Hall‘s analysis of Thatcherism‘s political appeal: the Thatcherite* interpellation succeeded insofar as the individual recognized himself/herself not as a member of some actual community but as a member of the imagined community of those who may be “lucky in the next round” by way of their individual entrepreneurship. The hope of success, the recognition of oneself as the one who may succeed, overshadows the actual success and already functions as a success, the same as in a TV quiz show where, in a sense, “taking part in it” already is to win: what really matters is not the actual gains but being identified as part of the community of those who may win.

*Margaret Thatcher, P.M. of the U.K. from 1979-1990. From her Wikipedia entry: “Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasized deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, and the sale or closure of state-owned companies and withdrawal of subsidies to others.” It’s no accident that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has compared himself to not only Reagan, but Thatcher; and that an under-reported but important part of his budget is the ability to sell state-owned property in a no-bid process.

In short, what the chart illustrates in a slightly different way is exactly what Žižek says: most people imagine the wealth distribution in the U.S. to be a great deal more equitable than it is. One need only add that most people imagine themselves to be on the way to moving up to the next income bracket; or indeed, through some kind of extraordinary cognitive dissonance, to already be there, and it’s suddenly understandable how people can identify and sympathize with millionaires and billionaires, rather than the teachers and workers who belong to their actual class.

And made no mistake: it’s class warfare, all over the globe. People fighting for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, are fighting for a larger slice of the pie, a more equal distribution of wealth and resources. The illusion that’s worked for so long has started to crack. Saudi Arabia is very nervous; the king has bumped social services and welfare in an attempt to maintain the imagined community there.

In every instance, it’s going to take a critical mass of people disillusioning themselves in order for anything to really change.

This entry was posted in Politics, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *