Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Should Be Done (Broken Record Edition)

More and more questions are being raised about the efficacy of the various economic stimulus efforts attempted since last year. From my perspective, nearly everything that's been done so far follows the Hooverite model of propping up the top of the economic pyramid while leaving the masses to fend for themselves. "Tough luck, suckers!" and all that.

Unemployment continues to rise, and nothing at all is being done about it. In fact, the high unemployment rates we're seeing today are expected to get worse, and are expected to stay high indefinitely. Those who still have jobs are seeing their wages and benefits cut while their workload in many cases is increasing. Ah! Productivity gains! But all the economic benefit from those gains is going to the top 1%; working people get higher debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, homelessness and despair. Just like under Hoover. (Who, by the way, tried lots of programs to stave off the worst of the Depression, but who could not bring himself to actually institute programs to help people in desperate need.)

The Health Care Mess is looking grimmer every day. The Republicans are doing their usual Swift Boat routine and getting away with it; the Dems are -- as always -- gobsmacked and lost in Wonkery, unable to explain just what is being proposed and how it will affect ordinary people. From appearances, all that will be accomplished, if there is a bill, is to give a huge bonus to the Insurance Cartel. More Hooverism in other words.

The Cash for Clunkers program seems to have been a big hit -- except of course with the dealers who have to whine and complain about all the bureaucracy it entails (it is their duty to complain after all!) -- but I question the notion of so many people taking on so much more debt in the middle of a recession/depression. Things are still predicted to get worse before they get better.

Some predictions suggest they aren't going to get better. Ever. At least not for most people. We are in a permanent economic decline.

So what should be done about it? I argued last year that the recovery and stimulus effort was exactly backwards. It was providing huge amounts of money to the banking industry and Wall Street, and it would eventually provide a far more modest amount of money to various heavy industry contractors, but it was providing almost nothing to households (well, there was lower withholding, by about $15 a week). There was no debt relief for households (but there was essentially complete debt relief for bankers and Wall Street); there were no significant foreclosure prevention mechanisms to keep people in their homes; the extensions of unemployment insurance and food stamps didn't account for the millions of unemployed and now destitute Americans who don't qualify for the programs, nor were there any job creation or job maintenance programs.

Turn each of these factors around, in other words debt relief for households, not bankers and Wall Street. Income support, jobs programs, foreclosure moritoria for the duration, etc, etc. All of this and more should have been done from the outset. It hasn't been done yet.

Because the economy is being restructured, with a vastly reduced workforce in mind, it makes sense to let people retire early and collect Social Security -- at 50 or 55 if they want -- in order to relieve the downward pressure on wages and benefits from the astronomical unemployment rates (in some parts of California, unemployment is 30% and more) and to provide more employment opportunities for younger people. If retirement comes early, SS payments will have to increase significantly -- double or triple at the lower end. Medicare should be available retirees regardless of age. And the Medicare for All proposal suggests that anyone who wants to should be able to buy in to Medicare at any time.

These are all very straightforward and relatively simple economic programs to move the stagnation we're facing now out of the doldrums and to really give people dignity and hope again.

Of course Libertarians and Propertarians will howl -- it is their way. And a lot of those types like to masquerade as "Progressives" so that when proposals like these are made, the progressive end of the discussion tends to devolve into libertarian and propertarian cant. And "can't". See Crooks and Liars regarding Thom Hartmann's SS proposal.

Hooverism is winning the day, but Hooverism doesn't work in the context of economic catastrophe. Something bolder and simpler is required, starting at the bottom of the economic ladder and working up. Economic recovery can't happen from the top down.

We learned this many years ago, but everything we learned was forgotten when Ronald Reagan went on his crusade against progressive governance.

Now we have to relearn it. But at the rate things are going, it'll take either several more generations to break free of the Reaganite/Cheneyite hangover or it'll take a revolution.

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