by Jim Trageser
American Reporter Correspondent
May 3, 2001
ESCONDIDO, Calif. -- It's weeks like those just past that we realiz= e what we may have missed in not electing Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan to th= e White House.
Nothing gets the blood circulating like taking on those bad boys of= big business. How many of us cheered for the street protestors in Quebec wh= o tried to shut down the Summit of the Americas? Or rolled our eyes everyti= me one of the Western Hemisphere's leaders droned on about "free trade" -- as if we don't know that these deals are being struck in order to appease t= heir corporate masters?
Like me, you'd probably like to sit the owners of big business down= and tell them that laying off good workers just to show a higher quarterlyp= rofit is wrong. That eliminating jobs of blue collar and middle-classpeople= in order to find cheaper labor overseas is unjustifiable.
That putt= ing the bottom line above the human cost is ... well, it'simmoral, that's w= hat it is.
The ironic thing is, even with all the armed cops keeping theprotes= tors away from the different trade meetings, it's really not so hardto deli= ver the above message in person.
All you need is a mirror.
While it's eminently satisfying to get on our high horses andcondem= n "big business," the truth is that over the past decade, "bigbusiness" has= been acquired in large part by middle America.
Do you have a 401k? Invest in a mutual fund? Stash some cash awayin= an IRA?
Then you, too, are now an owner of corporate America, one of thoses= ame bosses shipping jobs overseas, fighting increased environmental protect= ion and putting profit above all else.
What, not you? Really? Then exactly what do you look for when youch= oose a fund for your 401k or IRA? Results, most likely -- as in a good retu= rn last quarter.
Maybe you're one of those "moral" investors, someone who only buys= "socially conscious" funds. Of course, you still want a 12 percent returnev= ery year. I mean, you want to retire and put the kids through college,after= all.
What was most ironic about the latest round of protests is thatowne= rship of publicly traded firms has never been more populist. When theGreat Depression hit after the stock market crash, very few Americans ownedany st= ock. Today, almost everyone with a 401k or IRA does.
In fact, odds are that many (if not most) of those protesting inthe= streets of Canada were in fact demonstrating against ... themselves. What they -- and we -- don't want to face up to is the fact that the real= pressure for obscene profits -- the pressure that drives jobsoverseas and causes perfectly profitable companies to lay off employeesanyway -- doesn't= come from the rich.
It comes from the competition among various investment funds toattr= act more investors -- and there is a lot more money to be had from 401kacco= unts than from the idle rich.
Oh, it's good fun to rail against the "richest 1 percent" or"riches= t 10 percent" or any small group. Set up a strawman, and then proceed to te= ar it down.
It's always easier to attack a "them" than it is to attack an "us."=
The only problem is that when it comes to Wall Street, "them" hasbe= come us.
Billions of dollars are being pumped into 401k plans. While= different 401k plans invest in different vehicles, certainly one of themost= popular is the stock market. There are hundreds, probably thousands ofdiff= erent investor funds out there. I've had two different 401k plans at mylast= two jobs. Each one offered a variety of stock funds to invest in:high-tech= , blue-chip, foreign. All riskier than, say, real estate orgovernment bonds= , but all also holding out the promise of a much largerreturn on my investm= ent.
The old-school rich may not have been enlightened by ourprogressive= suburban ideals on such feel-good issues as global warming orsweatshop lab= or, but they were content with a 3 or 4 percent return eachyear on their in= vestments. They had money, after all, and wanted only tosee steady growth i= n their holdings. It was security they were after -- thesame thing we all a= re after. They were just better at it than most of us.
It's the middle class that's pressuring their 401k managers for ala= rger return. If American corporations feel the need to show unrealistically= high profit and growth margins -- 20 percent and up annually in some cases= -- that pressure is coming from the stockholders.
And increasingly, those stockholders are comprised of the variousin= vestment funds whose assets come from our retirement and 401k funds --from us, the great unwashed, who want someone somewhere to do something about al= l this greed. Now shut up with your protesting so I can see how Microsoft didtoday= .
Jim Trageser is a writer living and editor living in Escondido,Calif. Re= ach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.