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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

What the GOP Calls "The Economy" Isn't Really the Economy

Door labeled Unemployment OfficeIf Democrats want to limit their losses in November, it might be a good idea to start pointing out that, of the two parties, Democrats are the ones who give a damn. Because Republicans clearly don't. Faced with massive unemployment and a sluggish economy, the Republican's plan is worse than nothing -- do everything that hasn't been working, but do more of it. According to Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post, "The Economic Freedom Act of 2010 -- introduced by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) -- proposes deep tax cuts favoring the wealthiest in America, a reduction in regulatory oversight and the elimination of a federal tax on the estates of millionaires, which will allow wealthy investors to escape taxes entirely on a significant portion of their income." I guess if there's one group in America who really need a handout right now, it's those Kurt Vonnegut once described as the "fabulously well-to-do." If you need a refresher course on how Republican supply-side economics works, Stephen Colbert recently explained it -- pretty damned accurately, by the way. Put less comedically, supply-siders believe that everyone other than the wealthy live off the crumbs the rich leave at the table, so the rich need a huge banquet every night. The unspoken assumption is that, unless you're a captain of industry, you're not actually doing anything for the economy. Big People who do Big Things are the sole drivers of employment and economic growth.

Where has this thinking gotten us? Well, Bush subscribed to this idea and, as a direct result, had the worst record of jobs growth since jobs numbers began being tracked. So, of course, Republicans argue we have to do more of that. It may not have worked at any point up until now, but this time for sure.

What Democrats need to do is point all of this out. Not only will it set Republicans back, but it'll embarrass idiotic Democrats who sorely need to be embarrassed. Americans need to be introduced to Alexandra Jarrin and Paul Krugman. Krugman is, of course, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for the New York Times. Meet Alexandra Jarrin. Jarrin is a "99er" -- someone who's used the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment benefits:

Facing eviction from her Tennessee apartment after several months of unpaid rent, Alexandra Jarrin packed up whatever she could fit into her two-door coupe recently and drove out of town.

Ms. Jarrin, 49, wound up at a motel here, putting down $260 she had managed to scrape together from friends and from selling her living room set, enough for a weeklong stay. It was essentially all the money she had left after her unemployment benefits expired in March. Now she is facing a previously unimaginable situation for a woman who, not that long ago, had a corporate job near New York City and was enrolled in a graduate business school, whose sticker is still emblazoned on her back windshield.

"Barring a miracle, I'm going to be in my car," she said.

Now let's see what Krugman has to say:

I'm starting to have a sick feeling about prospects for American workers -- but not, or not entirely, for the reasons you might think.

Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That's bad. But what's worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn't care -- that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal.

And I worry that those in power, rather than taking responsibility for job creation, will soon declare that high unemployment is "structural," a permanent part of the economic landscape -- and that by condemning large numbers of Americans to long-term joblessness, they'll turn that excuse into dismal reality.

"Not long ago, anyone predicting that one in six American workers would soon be unemployed or underemployed, and that the average unemployed worker would have been jobless for 35 weeks, would have been dismissed as outlandishly pessimistic," he writes, "in part because if anything like that happened, policy makers would surely be pulling out all the stops on behalf of job creation."

Of course, they haven't. Let's be clear about one thing: reducing the deficit does not create jobs. And neither do tax cuts for the rich -- if top-heavy tax cuts raised employment, they would've started doing it ten years ago, when they were first implemented. Republicans, along with the aforementioned idiotic Democrats, have already begun their "new normal" campaign, blocking extensions of unemployment benefits and standing against any government spending that would help create jobs.

And let's be clear about another thing, the rich are not the "job creators," as Republicans like to pretend. You are. Consumers create jobs. Jobs are created by demand. If the rich can suddenly afford to hire a bunch of people, they won't -- not unless they need them. And the only reason they'd need more workers would be to increase production to answer demand. If no one's spending money, there is no demand. And, with high unemployment, a lot of people aren't spending money -- because, like Alexandra Jarrin, they don't have any. And this just feeds the cycle. Decreasing demand results in further unemployment, which results in decreasing demand, resulting in further unemployment, which results in lather, rinse, repeat.

That should be the Democratic message. The economy isn't some weird, unknowable deity who can only be appeased by arcane mumbo-jumbo and human sacrifice on the Altar of Deficit. And it's not a big white bank with Greek pillars on Wall Street. The people that Republicans call "job creators" don't create anything, they're just middle men who make their living selling money to each other.

No, the economy is you. You're the economy when you buy groceries, when you get your kids ready to go back to school, when your fuel pump dies and you have to replace it. You're the economy and if the government isn't helping you, then the government is ignoring the only thing that spurs economic growth and employment -- consumption.

The economy isn't as complicated as Republicans like to pretend, that's just smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that their policies are designed to help the rich. The truth is that the economy is as simple as you've always supected; if you're broke, the economy is bad. And the fix for that is for you to stop being broke.

If we give an inch to Republican economics, then we take one step toward that society Krugman describes as becoming "the new normal," where unemployment is so vast that employers can get away with paying next to nothing and the only people with any money to speak of are those who already had enough in the first place.

That's the Republican idea of a great economy. The question is, is it yours?


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