I thought I was fairly savvy about most items of a political or economic bent; I read a great deal about the topics from a wide array of sources, and I try to keep up with the math. But I just can’t fathom what’s going on right now that has so many people in such a snit. For the better part of five years, I have read op/eds, watched the Sunday sit-arounds, and listened to the nearly nightly ablutions of the Very Serious People, all centered on the the absolute screaming necessity of:
Getting this spending under control, and practicing a little fiscal discipline!!
Now I know that Republicans, for three consecutive sessions of Congress (they controlled the House, Senate, and White House during that time), spent money like the proverbial profligate sailors…that much is clear. Republicans diverged from Democrats under Obama (who saw tax revenues fall due to job losses, and automatic spending raise as the newly jobless put their kids on Medicaid, and registered for unemployment and food stamps.) For the years between 2000 and 2007, conservatives intentionally poured money into their favorite pet defense programs, and intentionally lowered revenues in two giveaways called, collectively, the “Bush Tax Cuts”, giveaways that largely benefited Americans in the upper third of income earners.
Mitt Romney isn’t a bad guy because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Mitt Romney isn’t a bad candidate for president because he is a multimillionaire with three large homes. We the people have enjoyed the results of successful presidents from many points in the American spectrum; rich, poor, and middle of the road. The problem for Mitt Romney the candidate, is that he does represent the kind of business that has nearly destroyed our way of life, and did destroy the lives of millions of our fellows.
Mitt Romney is a corporate raider; Mitt Romney is a Wall Street vulture. Mitt Romney is a believer in the notion that wealth harvested from fancy takeovers is as pure as that earned by the sweat of the working class. The former Governor of Massachusetts and savior of the Salt Lake Olympics was a founder of Bain Capital, a firm that specialized in building wealth for its partners by stripping away the value from other firms. To be sure, Romney didn’t invent the corporate raider, and he didn’t violate any laws that we have heard. Romney was true to all the values he was raised with, and it is that point that is concerning, because his are the values that have defined our nation since the early 80′s. America, during the last thirty years, has begun to prize a very different definition of success than that acknowledged during the bulk of our national golden age. Wealth has become synonymous with achievement, and great wealth at that. And the type of wealth it takes to succeed in Mitt Romney’s America is only available to those individuals who can be partners at firms like Bain.
The New York Times, that bastion of liberal media bias, is up with one of the most shockingly ridiculous headlines of all time: “Military Budget Cuts May Harm Innovation”. Under the headline, the actual title of the piece is only slightly less one-sided: “A Shrinking Budget May Take Neighbors With It”. The rationale for the article is simple, tired, and artificial; it is a cousin to the rationale that permeates our national discussion on energy. Simply put; fossil fuels and military spending are job-creators, any alternatives to the above are job-killers.
The article compounds its mendacity by accepting as gospel the notion that cuts in traditional spending must be made, ignoring any changes to revenue, and all fixes to the true drivers of budget deficit. Workers without jobs don’t have income to pay taxes on, and health care costs that are well beyond what all other industrialized nations pay drive budget nightmares at the federal, state, local, and corporate levels. None of that, of course, matters if you are an author whose primary goal is to provide specious arguments supporting the corporate military/fossil fuels complex. A bill spending $400 billion on domestic construction projects and $400 billion on tax credits aimed at the working class was a waste, they claim, but cutting $45 billion per year over ten years will cripple innovation and kill jobs. Those very same arguing that the native home of innovation is the marketplace, are now arguing that innovation will be crippled without government spending of a certain type.
We Americans like simple, easy to distort constructs in our politics. “Tax and spend”, “fiscal responsibility”, “corporate excess”, and “union corruption” are all easy to sell ideas. When I write articles here or at The Pigeon Post, it goes without saying that provocative and opinionated articles are more widely read than carefully constructed pieces on economic policy. Will a politician cut my taxes or advance a program that I support, becomes the simple question that is asked and answered by campaign ads. As we are at the beginning of a long climb out of our economic downturn, this election is beginning to pivot on household money which, for most of us, means hourly wages.
Would the economy be better if there were less limitations on top producers (real or perceived) to earning money? Would the economy be better if a larger percentage of households had the opportunity (real or perceived) to earn more money? Would the economy be better if there were stronger safety nets in place? All of these questions are asked with regularity, and to an extent, the answers can define a person as liberal or conservative. But this cycle, beginning last November with questions about worker compensation at General Motors, has become more focused on how much fault to assign to workers that are paid a decent wage. We have begun to attack the success of regular working people.
Blaming the media for the problems in our nation can be a tiresome habit. Politicians and sports figures learn the trick when they enter public life, and cling to the tactic to the bitter end. But the media does have a negative effect on the world that is particularly evident when they restate talking points or opinion as fact. A recent article from MSNBC contains good examples of bad journalism on the economy, proving that all misinformation is not the fault of Fox News.
Taken as a whole, the article written by producer John Schoen is not terrible, but it does perpetuate (without supporting evidence) purely political themes on the economic issues of today. I will provide a brief deconstruction of those themes in this post, but I encourage respondents to debate my conclusions in the comment section. Economics is a social science; facts and experimentation are foundational, but supposition and opinion form a far larger component than one would find in other disciplines.
Something doesn’t make sense. The process is askew. Shouldn’t aim come before fire? The media and Congress are operating today, based on their actions, as though a debt crisis is our great national problem. The people don’t believe that; poll after poll find jobs and the economy are more important than the federal deficit. We are constantly told that Congress went against the wishes of the people when they voted for health care reform. The same polls tell Congress that jobs matter more than the deficit; where is the drumbeat for action on that front?
I can hear folks thinking already; the people say jobs, but what do the professionals say? Economists have been beating the drums for real stimulus for over a year now. The collapse of the housing bubble blew a $2 trillion hole in the economy; a hole that resulted in precipitous falls in state and federal income tax and local sales tax collections. Better than half of our current federal deficit is a direct result of the recession; a fact which means once people go back to work, that potion of the deficit will no longer be an issue. The professionals are calling for federal action on jobs, the people are calling for federal action on jobs, the media are being led like sheep towards the false idol that is debt crisis.