Stay Tuned

I’m getting some lunch at Panera Bread, bless their corporate heart– they’re here, they take my card and they have Wi-Fi. I’m a little sorry that a nice pizza place I was going to stop at has closed their doors– tough for small businesses.

Not to eat their bread and dis them– it’s nothing against Panera, but big chains don’t trickle customers down onto Mom and Pop’s Pizza. They take the customers. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

I’m listening to WRNI news that the Republicans will almost certainly succeed in extending tax cuts for the richest, as a condition of tax relief for the middle class. In their faith-based enthusiasm they assure us that the rich will trickle on us and bless us with golden showers of prosperity.

Robert Reich on Common Dreams gives us the two competing narratives on economic reform. I’m going back to work, so I’m going to just lift a lot of what he wrote, but follow the link for the whole post, it’s really good…

Quiz: What’s responsible for the lousy economy most Americans continue to wallow in?

A. Big government, bureaucrats, and the cultural and intellectual elites who back them.

B. Big business, Wall Street, and the powerful and privileged who represent them.

These are the two competing stories Americans are telling one another.

Yes, I know: It’s more complicated than this. In reality, the lousy economy is due to insufficient demand – the result of the nation’s almost unprecedented concentration of income at the top. The very rich don’t spend as much of their income as the middle. And since the housing bubble burst, the middle class hasn’t had the buying power to keep the economy going. That concentration of income, in turn, is due to globalization and technological change – along with unprecedented campaign contributions and lobbying designed to make the rich even richer and do nothing to help average Americans, insider trading, and political bribery.

So B is closer to the truth.

But A is the story Republicans and right-wingers tell. It’s a dangerous story because it deflects attention from the real problem and makes it harder for America to focus on the real solution – which is more widely shared prosperity.

Reich calls for a new WPA. That’s what the ‘stimulus’ should have been called, because it’s what people want. We want to work, we want to see everyone give their fair share. Someone has to find the words and get heard.

5 thoughts on “Stay Tuned

  1. The WPA left America with really great works of infrastructure such as dams,highways,and bridges,and more small scale architecture for people to access like the beautiful Brooklyn Public Library.
    The series of guidebooks on various states was also a great legacy of the WPA.
    The visual arts were a mixed bag,but included some excellent stuff.
    There was an aspect that bothers me-the “cultural”corner including playwrights and “intellectuals”who were extreme left wingers and communists and bit the hand that fed them.People like Clifford Odets.
    Their experience of the Depression was a “little” more comfortable than that of the agricultural workers,yet they were ingrates.
    My dad and grandfather spent most of the Depression up around the Finger Lakes and Adirondack region of New York moving from town to town working in shoe factories.
    My dad was really left wing,but on the other hand,he wasn’t getting crap from the government.
    I fear what kind of”art”would be produced by a modern version of the WPA.
    I am a little confused by the difference between the WPA and the PWA.IIRC the PWA may have been the infrstructure/architecture branch.

  2. There are a few problems with a ‘new WPA’:

    First, people who got laid-off from $40,000 office jobs aren’t about to go pick up shovels and start laying down asphalt for $12/hr. They’re really just not going to. We know this because a huge number of long-term unemployed people already aren’t willing to go back to work for much less than what their last job paid.

    Second, adding a massive amount of cheap WPA labor to the market might be great for the infrastructure and economy, but it would be -really bad- for a group that has a powerful lobby: Government workers who already have the infrastructure jobs and get great compensation. They would never let it happen, or they would make it so expensive that it would lose all value.

    Third, it won’t be as effective as we want. The problem with the economy isn’t that ‘people aren’t spending money’, it’s that we’ve been running on imaginary ‘bubble fumes’ for over a decade, spending money we never had in the first place. Even now, savings are only a fraction of what they need to be in order to have a sustainable, stable economy. We don’t need to get money into regular people’s pockets, we need people to stop buying two cars, a big screen TV, and $120/month cable service if they’re ‘working class’. Americans are going to have to make dramatic adjustments to their lifestyles to fit into the economic realities of a globalizing world. It might mean sharing one car (or no car) with the whole family, it might mean that kids sleep two-to-a-room (like I did, as a middle class kid in the 1980s), it might mean growing some food in the backyard, and bartering babysitting hours for some eggs.

    One thing’s for sure: The prescription for the fix isn’t to enable another round of unbridled (and undeserved) binge on Chinese-manufactured goods.

  3. I agree totally with your last sentence. We do not need giant inflatable lawn Santas to make it through December.

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