Walter Rhett

Spin, Unemployment, and the New Wealth

In Media, National Affairs on October 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm


Mississippi Cotton worker, born 1859, "2 years before the surrender," photo 1936 by Dorothea Lange.

Spin not only is the main source for daily accounting of the joist and thrust of national politics, it is also now the wholly accepted principal substitute for truth. Like the video games that are a model for our current politics, spin has hierarchies of levels and skill. The best spinner wins! Which only muddles the truth more and makes the chasm bigger.

Extracting a point of fallen and bruised truth, discombulated and shredded by spin: austerity doesn’t bring prosperity; tax cuts will not stimulate demand or create jobs. Despite this obvious truth, a South Carolina commenter replied to me last week in a local paper that “the rich will buy a lot more groceries  with a tax cut.” Common sense may be impossible to retrieve, and our national politics certainly reflect its lost.

Question: Fed Ex recently announced 45,000 temporary openings for the holiday season and is using twitter to prompt its recruiting, corporations are sitting on close to $2 trillion in cash, and Bank of America earned $2.78 billion in profit in the quarter ending in July; has the old relationship between stimulus spending and economic expansion made a qualitative leap?

California soup lines, 1938. Dorothea Lange photo

Has the collective behavior of the market decision makers changed to the degree that outsourcing, cash hoarding, and profit expansion have replaced the old norms of how macro-levels interact and show up in the micro world of job growth? I am not asking to spin or divert, or to pose phony constructions and analogies or misplaced interpretations of data that only prove the predetermined positions held by the people who offer them as proof. As is true now in politics, and in corporate profits – at record levels despite high unemployment (or perhaps because of it!) – do the old models hold the predictabity to bring sanity when madness reigns?

Within the culture of political economy, I point to Iceland as a case in point. Enjoying the world’s lowest unemployment, high personal satisfactions, good wages, the country crashed and became bankrupt virtually overnight when it leaped outside of the charts. My other case is historic: Sweden in the early 1700s. Faced with a severe depression, Sweden gained prosperity by selling iron ore to English smelters to be processed for long handled hoe blades to work the rice plantations of the Carolina and Georgia colonies. What would have happened to Sweden if the market for steel had not opened up? Are their parallels?

Might not the new source of wealth and prosperity – for some – be sourced in the permanent lose of jobs and displacement of others (even as the safety net is dismantled, shifting even more wealth to corporations)? Might this new truth be hidden by the political spin of its own complaint?

Mississippi hoe workers, 1937. Dorothea Lange photo. Library of Congress.


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