Barbara Ehrenreich, writer and voice of the nickel-and-dimed American middle class, warns workers not to expect much help from the increasingly hypocritical Obama administration. Obama’s newly nominated choice to head the Council on Economic Affairs is Jason Furman, a beltway economist who practically defines the term Washington insider, having worked in the Clinton administration before turning 30. (Then, of course, at the Brookings Institute.) Describing Furman, Obama said, “When the stakes are highest, there’s no one I’d rather turn to for straightforward, unvarnished advice that helps me to do my job.”
Besides rarely leaving Washington, Furman is best known for how much he admires Wal-Mart. He once wrote a paper crediting Wal-Mart’s brand of productivity as “the principal driver of economic progress,” saying “it is the only force that can make everyone better off: workers, consumers, and owners of capital.” (Workers have argued the point, lately (and futilely) fighting to unionize.) But as the country’s largest employer, Wal-Mart’s role in the current economic malaise can’t help but be a divisive subject. For many, like Furman, the company is a sterling example of capital put to good work, bringing affordable products to people who need them. But reasonable, equally well-educated economists consider the company’s wages an outrage, and point up that many of its employees also qualify for food stamps and medicaid, thereby allowing the company to earn some of its profits on the backs of taxpayers. Ehrenreich, whose embeds in the trenches of the American workforce memorably show the dysfunction and despair of the working class, wrote on Facebook after the announcement: “Don’t expect any support from this administration Wal-Mart workers…” She might have said taxpayers too, but then workers are the taxpayers.
Curious note: Furman was actor Matt Damon’s freshman year roommate at Harvard. The Damons–like the Furmans–are known to shop exclusively at Wal-Mart.
Books by Barbara Ehrenreich: