Discussions about hardship and austerity often focus on which vitally needed social programmes should be cut to fund others; how we should juggle money around to meet looming budget gaps and lack of funding in a way that rankles least with injustice. There are vigorous defenses of one program or another as critical. These debates are reminiscent of a flock of pigeons fighting over a scattering of seed, bobbing desperately across the pavement and elbowing their fellows aside to be the first, the most aggressive, the most determined, the ones who will emerge victorious from the pile with cheeks stuffed.
Pigeons are perhaps more self interested than these squabbling humans, many of whom acknowledge that the programs they advocate cutting to keep others functional are important and have value, there’s just not enough money available to keep them. Something has to go and while it’s not fair, they argue that some some things would hurt more than others. There is less selfishness in these narratives than a simplistic pigeon pile, but fundamentally, these discussions and arguments are about fighting for crumbs, jockeying for scraps from the table. Trying, desperately, to get ahead on finite resources that do not, cannot, and will not stretch far enough.
Which is exactly the way those in power want it to be, because as long as people are fighting for crumbs, they remain blissfully unaware of the whole cakes cooling on the windowsill, being frosted on the kitchen counter, and winding their way to the damasked tables of the wealthiest members of society. That top one percent has cornered the cake market so effectively that it seems no one has even noticed; people are simply not talking about the cake while they fight for stale crumbs and talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul and predict that, increasingly, charities will be leaned upon to provide the basic services that the government can no longer afford.
The shortage of funds for vital social services is not, though, about finite resources that must be juggled and stretched to accommodate the needs of a complex and diverse population. The only shortage is in the minds of the people trapped underneath the table fighting for crumbs. There are plenty of resources available, they just need to be tapped, and everyone seems reluctant to discuss this when they talk about cutting Social Security pensions or cutting in home support services to ensure that kindergartens will have working toilets, enough staff to manage the students safely. There is no reason to be squabbling over a miniscule amount of resources when other resources are there; other people are eating cake, if the squabblers will only pause long enough to look.
Power and control retained and increasingly consolidated by the wealthy is the elephant in the room in so many discussions about budgeting and crisis. On the government level, any discussion about raising taxes, or even cutting loopholes to oblige people to pay their fair share, is conducted sotto voce for the most part while the people scrabble for the pathetic leavings, the discarded trappings of the wealthy, whatever they haven’t had an opportunity to Hoover up yet. The government is the only entity capable of any kind of rebalancing, and it staunchly refuses to do so, and it gets away with it because the people, by and large, do not challenge it.
Protest movements centred on collecting actual taxes from the rich, on addressing the mounting inequality in this country, are relatively small and they aren’t widely covered by the media. Many lack clout and are viewed as a radical fringe, rather than people legitimately expressing political grievances and asking for redress. Representatives take handouts from their wealthy constituents, either directly or in the form of campaign support, and then ignore the other people they supposedly represent, the people who live in their districts, whether or not they voted for them. This creates a feedback cycle where politicians toss out a few crumbs to appease the masses while they sit at the cake table.
And astoundingly, those who have a problem with this are painted as the radical fringe, without any critical evaluation of what it means when people are set against each other adversarially to fight over resources when they should be working in solidarity with each other. There is no reason to defund any group in society to allow another to survive, there is no reason to strip benefits in the interest of maintaining a social programme somewhere else, not when the resources are available, they just need to be reached for. Someone has to march into the kitchen, inform the players that the party is over, and swipe some cakes off the counter for the masses.
It’s not necessary to take all the cakes; the goal is not utter disenfranchisement, but a disruption of the powerful consolidation of wealth and influence that is happening just outside the purview of most citizens. Social equality doesn’t have to be out of reach, but someone does have to reach for it.
This responsibility is often placed in the hands of the citizens; we are blamed for the policies created in our lifetimes, because surely we voted for them. But this is not affair assignment of blame. Not when the influence and control lie in the hands of people with money and we have none. Surely, citizens are not actively voting for rising inequality, for the most part, for intense disparities in wealth and influence. It’s just that our votes count less, and because we are assigned to fighting for crumbs, we are too busy tearing each other apart to pay any attention to the man behind the curtain, the man with the real power, the man with the cakes.