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Let Them Eat Cake December 22, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in Auto Bail-Out, Bank Bail-Out, Economy.
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marie antionette

The story goes that during the French Revolution, Queen Marie Antoinette asked a councilor why the people were rioting.  He replied because they were hungry and had no bread.  The Queen’s apparent response was, “Well, let them eat cake.”

Historians dispute that Marie Antoinette ever actually uttered those words, but the mythology remains in our culture.  The phrase “let them eat cake” has come to symbolize the attitude of the out of touch wealthy classes with all the rest of us.  It intimates an indifference to the suffering of the masses – a “who cares, I’ve got mine” sentiment – and a sense of detachment and disdain for them.

During the endless weeks of talks to save the American auto industry, I have had a sense that the people who shower after work – much of the middle and working classes – have been told to eat cake.  While the government fell all over itself to save the Wall Street elites (those who shower before work) and dumped $700 billion with no strings attached into their laps, the American companies that actually make something were made to wait.  The President and treasonous members of Congress (Sens. Shelby, Sessions, and Corker) took the auto makers and its employees to the brink before lending 2% – two per cent! – of what they gave the financial industry.  In the ultimate betrayal, the workers of these companies were forced to agree to more wage and benefit cuts to save their livelihoods.  Even then, there are no guarantees.  The spectre of unemployment and poverty looms in the background.

Over 12 million Ameicans are out of work right now.  Those numbers are supposed to surge by an additional million people before spring.  Workers are facing bankruptcy, homelessness due to foreclosure, and hunger. 

Hunger is a growing problem in America.  According to the non-profit group Feeding America  (formerly Second Harvest), hunger and food insecurity is a growing problem in the United States, especially among children and the elderly.  Food pantries are having a hard time as increasing food prices and economic insecurity have donations lower than in previous years.  Though they don’t have increased stocks, pantries are serving 20% more people this year than last, and expect the numbers to increase.  The demand for food from charity sources is about 4 million households per week.  The free school lunch program, food stamp program, and WIC programs have been inundated with applications.  The average working person in this country is falling fast.

Meanwhile, MSNBC Business reports this morning that $1.6 billion of the financial services bail-out has gone to pay bonuses to banking executives.  The people that are largely reponsible for the misery that the workers are facing have done quite well for themelves on the taxpayer’s dime.  According to MSNBC, “Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.”

The shamelessness of these bonuses is breathtaking and the government’s complicity in them is unforgiveable.   Many of the people standing in line for a free turkey this Christmas are there because of the greed exhibited by these banks and financial institutions.  It’s the ulimate “fuck you”.  We’ve just been told to eat some cake.