James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Economic 'recovery'? Not for you and me

We're not going to get anywhere with discussions about what to do to save -– “restore” probably is more accurate -- the economy in which most of us dwell until we face up to a basic truth that everyone has so far avoided.

This, I believe, is the essential hidden fact of economics in 21st century America: What we have is exactly what the tiny economic elite, the one or two percent of richest Americans, wants us to have.

Whatever “save the economy” crap they talk is for consumption by the suckers, to be processed by their captive information media. They are hoping and angling with great success to keep the vast majority of the American people in a state of duress and anxiety.

The more of us who are broke, desperate, afraid, ignorant and sick, the better off they are, or so they obviously believe.

From the viewpoint of those who own most of the country's wealth, the Gilded Age was the Golden Age. They're aiming to get back there quickly.

Even brilliant and knowledgeable people such as New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert haven't quite dared to state the situation that flatly, although both of those gutsy gentlemen recently have edged closer to stating the bald truth.

(Here's a bet. If one of them does come out and plainly state that our economic woes are deliberately fomented by the economic/corporate elite, he will shortly thereafter disappear from the Times and other major venues, quite possibly after being somehow falsely discredited.)

Yes, the corporate media is shilling for the money elite. Of course they are. Look at who owns that media. All the fuss, the stories about how tough things are and how we need jobs and how we might get jobs is for show. They aren't doing and won't do the reporting that would lead to public understanding of how we're being manipulated and by whom.

“He said vs. he said,” is not truthful reporting. It allows the public to think that the viewpoint of the extreme right, generally built on demonstrably false premises, is as valid as any other, and that the lies they tell to support their assertions are equal to facts presented by others. That allows the ignorant to pick the position that best fits their prejudices, what they have been taught to believe.

No one will, or should, take my word for any of this, of course.

Look at the facts:

Most news outlets, and the corporate agencies that purport to put out news, have reported that the U.S. economy still is losing jobs at a great rate. Recent reports also have pointed out that the national unemployment rate remains at 9.5 percent.

Most news operations also have acknowledged in articles buried in back pages that the actual unemployment rate is far higher. They haven't admitted it is growing rapidly, however. The official unemployment rate does not count so-called discouraged workers -– people who, after months and even years of seeking jobs give up and quit looking. (Is that a fraudulent system of counting? You betcha. It suits the politicians and their masters. They prefer we not realize how many people are desperate and permanently out of work.)

In July, the New York Times reported, 48,000 employees of local and state governments were laid off or fired because of budget squeezes, and 181,000 people “left the labor force” -- gave up and quit looking for work after months of rejection. Over just the past three months, Times columnist Bob Herbert reported, 1,155,000 unemployed Americans dropped out and so are no longer counted among the official unemployed.

Leave those people in the “work force,” and unemployment is well over 10 percent and getting rapidly worse.

And how has our economic elite and the politicians they own (almost all Republicans and a high percentage of Democrats) responded to the desperate need?

You know.

Republicans in Congress, all of them, fought to prevent an extension of unemployment benefits; they were joined by several people who call themselves Democrats, and who get campaign money from party organizations. And that was only a small piece of the story. Governments on all levels, under pressure from corporations, wealthy individuals and right wing politicians, continue to shed workers and slash budgets, with special emphasis on programs that ease the lot of the poor and even the middle classes.

In Minnesota and throughout the country, health care programs that attempt to provide some minimum level of care for the poor have been gutted, and more are on the block. In Minnesota, the poorest already have lost care and more will be cut off soon.

As hunger in this country grows, food stamp benefits are being greatly reduced.

As the Times reported Aug. 7, 2010, there now is a nationwide push to cut the pensions of government employees. Never mind what they were promised or what their contracts require. The move is supported by a large segment of the public –- mostly, I'm sure, because many dimwits are envious of the people who have good retirement programs.

Envy; it's the most American of emotions, and highly useful to right wingers who encourage it in their attacks on programs that benefit the poor. Welfare queens in Cadillacs, doncha know.

If you are a regular follower of the news and what passes for news, every day will present you with at least one story of a new layoff of several thousand people at some corporation or another. And a story like the recent one about corporations "outsourcing" legal work -- yes, the work of lawyers -- to India. And the Chicago Tribune story about how American corporations are taking the opportunity presented by low employment to spend big on new machinery and technology so that they can operate with far fewer employees than in the past.

Some of the money they're spending is ours, by the way.

If you looked sharply, you might have seen something on the Aug. 9 U.S. Commerce Department report showing that personal income of Americans dropped by 2.8 percent nationwide from 2008 to 2009. (You can be sure the trend is continuing.) The measurements were made in metropolitan areas throughout the country. Anecdotal evidence suggests income drops were at least as bad and probably worse in many nonmetro areas. Per capita personal income dropped 4 percent in my home town, Minneapolis, from 2008 to 2009.

Unless you totally shut out the world -- “American Idol” and people named Lohan do not constitute the world -– you have seen dozens and perhaps hundreds of reports about cities turning off street lights, school districts drastically cutting class time, upping student-teacher ratios and closing schools. You've seen countless stories about drastic reductions in aid to college students, laying off of even tenured college professors, roads going unpaved and dangerous bridges remaining in use but unrepaired.

A few years ago, the United States was first in the world in the percentage of its population with college degrees. Recent reports put it at 12th and falling.

Portugal, I just learned, now produces 45 percent of its electricity through “green” means, primarily wind and solar systems. Our politicians either argue that “we can't afford” to reduce our oil consumption or they hide and say nothing.

In 1970, federal statistics show, the 100 mostly highly paid corporate chief executives in the United States earned an average of $45 for every dollar earned by the average worker. Last year the ratio was $1,081 to $1.

There are many more such stories in the news. (If you want to know what's going on in this country, go first to the business pages of whatever publications you see.) I can't begin to do even one-sentence summaries of a hundredth of them.

And then there is the other side of the income equation; I'll keep it very short:

Since the 1970s, as Krugman, a Nobel-winning economist, said on his blog, the America that was largely middle class has “unraveled.”

His figures show that from 1979 to 2005, real income of the median household rose 13 percent; the income of the richest .1 percent (one tenth of one percent) rose 296 percent. Inflation more than ate the 13 percent rise of typical households.

The trend has continued and, in the most recent two years, accelerated.

In 2004, according to one set of figures, 25 percent of U.S. households had 87 percent of the country's privately-held wealth. The middle 50 percent of the population had 13 percent of the country's wealth. The bottom 25 percent essentially had no financial assets (net worth).

G. William Domhoff, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who does periodic reports on wealth distribution in this country, said that in 2007, the richest 1 percent of American households had 34.6 percent of the country's privately held wealth. The next richest 19 percent had 50.5 percent of the country's wealth. That means the wealthiest 20 percent owned an astonishing 85 percent of America's total privately held wealth, with by far the biggest hunk held by a tiny, almost invisible, minority.

There are minor differences from one report to another, but the story is the same from all studies, give or take a percentage point here or there. And though figures since 2007 are hard to pin down, there is general agreement among economists and others who study such things that the trend to concentration of the country's wealth in the hands of a miniscule percentage of the very richest people has continued and probably accelerated since the beginning of what's called the Great Recession.

All the rest of us got poorer, the rich have become richer.

And what has the response been from those very wealthy people and their wholly owned politicians?

Again, you know.

Fear and loathing of government deficits is a highly exaggerated and, under present conditions foolish, fear, according to virtually all independent economists. Those economists agree that what our economy desperately needs if it is to begin a genuine recovery is more government spending on things like infrastructure, financial aid to states, education and other programs that both benefit the majority of citizens and feed cash into the working economy.

A new Works Progress Administration (WPA) would greatly help the economy in which we the people live; drastic cutting of government programs is a major factor in preventing recovery.

But the politicians, the Republicans and Republicrats, have screamed fear of deficits until a majority of the public believes that deficits are the greatest danger we face.

And, of course, the owned politicians and the corporate mouthpieces have told us endlessly that we “can't afford” services for the poor, or even for the middle class. The public, lacking any knowledge of economics, believes what it is told, especially if the message is repeated endlessly by “important” people.

And, we are constantly told by politicians and the captive media, we must be “patriotic” and “support our troops” in needless and fraudulently begun wars -– and support the military with all the money it wants, always and forever.

Wars, of course, are enormously profitable for the people who own the resources with which they are fought. Those who die and are maimed, those who lose livelihoods and homes and businesses, simply do not count.

And, most important of all, every Republican and many Democrats tell us we must continue the Bush tax cuts for the rich and, in fact, increase them and make them permanent. They tell us that tax cuts give the rich the money with which they “create jobs.”

That is an outrageous lie.

Any economist who doesn't owe his entire income to those corporate rich knows and says that the big tax cuts have done nothing for our economy, nothing for the unemployed; the vast majority of that additional wealth is simply hoarded by those who have it. Hell, even some of the economists whose incomes are paid by corporations admit those truths.

But, the uneducated, economically ignorant public, believes all taxes are evil and that somehow they pay less taxes because of the Bush-era tax giveaways to the wealthy. After all, the media repeat the message daily, regularly ignoring the fact that the beneficiaries of tax cuts are almost entirely those who have great wealth.

A fact that even most of the economically ignorant recognize at some level: Despite the political rhetoric to the contrary, corporations don't care about “creating jobs.” Absolutely the contrary, in fact. Corporate executives have been working their butts off for more than 20 years to dump employees in this country. Often, their own incomes depend to large degree on how many people they can push into unemployment.

Corporations are about profits, creating wealth for their major owners and top executives; they have no other interests. None.

They don't want to create jobs. They want to pay the employees they must have as little as possible. They don't give a damn about the environment, about the safety of their employees, about “patriotism.” They care only for profits. Furthermore, corporate culture in this country wholly supports the belief that profit is all they should care about.

The people who run corporations have no interest in helping to create an educated American public. Quite the opposite, in fact. I've heard them talk in their secure places; they want a trained work force, able to follow directions but without the annoying habit of thinking critically. They have little interest in a strong national infrastructure, except for those parts that help them profit.

It is my now firm belief that they want high unemployment, widespread economic uncertainty, limited access to education and health care. With things the way they are now –- and with probably worse to come –- people are willing to take the jobs they can get. They will take whatever treatment they are given and keep their mouths shut about abuses of people, of law, of the environment.

Economically secure people are a pain in the ass to corporate management. They have demands, they have concerns beyond holding their jobs. If an economy is as healthy as ours was in the 1950s and '60s, people can tell the employer to go to hell if that employer is abusive in any way; other jobs are available.

Nope, the folks who own the wealth love what we have now, I assure you, and they're looking for more.

You have read the daily stories, or at least the headlines, about layoffs, and the multi-million dollar bonuses given to executives who successfully canned thousands of employees. Now read the stories, if you can find them, about using this period to install technology that allows the corporations to permanently eliminate masses of jobs.

When, thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court, the new organizations formed to feed millions of corporate dollars into political advertising talk about being “pro-business” and “supporting politicians who are pro-business, so that business can create jobs,” please recognize and point out to others that they are lying.

And recognize that what we have now is no accident caused by a surprise economic collapse.