Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says in his New York Times column today that the pending political crisis could deepen if the government makes the wrong policy decisions. He forecasts castrophic damage to families and workers and believes the appropriate analogy is the “blood bath” mentioned by Deficit Comission co-chair, Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming. Stunning prediction for a man who reads charts to describes trends. My spin:
No blood, only charts! The decisions of politicians about the economy reflect cultural assumptions. Ironically the crisis for which you are the harbinger and predictor has historic antecedents. Not in the economies of Japan, Germany, or Ireland—or more appropriately, Iceland—but more recently in the cultural politics of Chicago.
Remember when Harold Washington was elected Mayor of Chicago? The city shut down. An intransigent block stymied the city council and refused to govern. The Chicago council refused to approve appointments. This parallels the Senate holding up Obama’s appointments to the federal departments, commissions, and the courts, which recently prompted a group of Republican judges to write a letter to Senate Republicans to ask that Barack’s judicial appointments go forward.
Chicago’s economy tanked. An able man was brought to his knees. Notice the parallels?
There’s an old southern joke that describes a southern gentleman meeting Booker T. Washington while traveling, and proclaiming Mr. Washington to be “the greatest living American.” Washington thanked the gentleman, but deferred the honor to President Roosevelt. The gentleman said he also once shared the same sentiment—until the President invited Mr. Washington to the White House for dinner. (Many on first reading may miss the implication and tragic humor here.)
Outside of the Chicago analogy—more apt for the federal impasse than Newt’s Kenyan anti-colonialism—are other unnoticed parallels. These are tied to the actions and influence of huge financial interests.
These interests always align and embed themselves in the system to create sleights of mind. The suffering of slavery was not revealed in economic charts. Rice, its profits, its rapidly increased production, its century-long sustained growth, its multiplier on global output from Sweden to Turkey, is replaced in the popular mind with cotton, but rice created the American dream, advanced trade missions to Europe, prompted Southern support for the revolution, and even fueled Rhode Island’s rum industry, all while hiding its human costs. And why did Southern workers die defending the state’s rights of the wealthy?
As with rice, even today those with money and power benefit from our suffering. How else can South Carolina rank 46th in income with unemployment above 12% elect Jim DeMint while producing convertible BMW’s for the world and soon, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The state also manufactures paper, Honda ATV’s and cement. Yet 20% of its families have been below the poverty line for 30 years! The new governor wants to tax groceries (they bring no jobs she says). Featured on the cover of Time, she refuses to address and has no plan for the lack of demand. She ignores Rep. Clyburn’s wisdom—how do you give a tax cut to businesses for which there is no demand or to a man without a job?
While an imperfect comparison, the trade-off of $700 billion in tax cuts for the nation’s top one percent while refusing $14 billion in economic relief for the nation’s unemployed is a reworking of the old plantation and feudal systems. The rich and powerful are again gaining wealth from the toil of those who by their status are ignored or labeled as morally flawed — thereby deserving the sufferings and pain of their economic disadvantage. Yet there is evidence of a class revolt. (45 millionaires and Warren Buffet have encouraged the Congress to come together to raise their taxes.)
The effort to de-legitimize the Obama Presidency has created a “truth” based on keeping up the fight against the President. For these folk, the goal and results justify the dirty process. Use everything from Marxism to birth certificates. In this brave new world, the system manufactures lies. The more radical and distorted the account, the more believeable is its hypervigilance. Witness the $200 million a day travel per diem—only a billion a week—repeated into the camera without shame or blame by one congresswoman, while another is tried on ethics. It’s okay to lie and take money. Just don’t ask directly. You can be influenced, just don’t use your influence. And Republicans are influenced: why else would they pull the country into the breach and stand firmly against abandoning a policy that failed? Why are they willing to increase a deficit they claim to abhor? Why do they attack a cherished principle of American exceptionalism, paying taxes proportional to your means?
As long as the silent agenda to remove Obama rests on its denial, the distortions will continue. The only sure thing in the crystal ball is that the rich will benefit and the country will lose, and we will have economic charts to calculate its costs.