Posted by rflacks on:
I’ve been using this blog a lot to argue against progressive handwringing about the failings of the Obama administration. But those failings are now putting the entire future at risk. I am talking about the unemployment situation. Recent jobs reports suggest a worsening job picture, despite Obama’s expectations about recovery. Especially upsetting is the record breaking number of long term unemployed. Slight growth in new private sector jobs is being offset by the steady losses of jobs in the public sector. These numbers have not evoked any discernible moves by the white house toward measures that would improve the situation. Indeed, the whole political mainstream is caught up in a process that will make things worse.
First, we have the spectacle of the GOP, campaigning nationally and in the states for ever more severe austerity measures—measures that cut jobs, that reduce the benefits and incomes of poor and working class people, and that destroy infrastructure needed for economic growth.
Second, we have the spectacle of the Obama administration, buying into the deficit hawkery, struggling to defend entitlements and unemployment benefits, but preparing a deal for major budget cutting. Whether it will stick by a determined effort to tax the rich remains to be seen. What’s disturbing in the extreme is that the Administration is deliberately avoiding effort to advance programs that might restart the economy—programs that were once hyped as central to the Obama vision of change.
In this space, I have lauded the plan for a national infrastructure bank—a plan backed by both the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a design for mobilizing public and private capital for all kinds of projects in transportation, energy, education and communication—for targeting investment that would simultaneously create jobs, move toward ‘green’ economy and promote long-term growth. What happened to this? Obama justly claimed credit the other day for the revival of the auto industry soured by unprecedented government finance. Why the silence about expanding and deepening this sort of action? This is one of a number of major initiatives that could be taken (and some of which, like the ‘green economy’, were also promised).
Instead, we have the President and such figures as Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, yesterday declaring (much like Herbert Hoover did in the early days of the great depression) that prosperity is right around the corner. But the best they can offer is the possibility of a higher economic growth rate next year. This at a moment when the average unemployed worker needs something like 40 weeks to find a new job, when millions have been unemployed for more than a year, when millions are having homes foreclosed, when wages are stagnating.
Most explanations for the austerity fetish claim that ideology and politics are the driving forces. Wrong headed economics are said to motivate budget cutters. And GOP strategy to saddle Obama with the bad economy account for the actions of the Republicans in congress aimed at preventing even modest job creating measures from getting through. These explanations skirt the fact that real economic interests are involved. It’s the age old urge by bankers, by creditors and rentiers to prevent inflation that would dilute their position. That same urge dominated the Hoover administration as the economy crashed in 1930. It’s that same urge that explains the behavior of the European banks that’s wrecking the lives of people in Greece, Portugal, Spain.
We might assume that the Obama administration could resist that urge. I for one thought that his bringing in of Geithner and Bernanke could be explained as a clever means of cooling out Wall Street, that the big bank bailouts were unfortunately necessary, and I’ve applauded Obama when he seemed to be delivering proper lectures to the Wall Street suits. But we learn from an important story in the yesterday’s Washington Post that it was the Geithner perspective that was controlling—defeating the advice of Christina Romer (his chief economic advisor who later resigned)and others in the inner policy circle in 2009. Their push for a larger and more effective recovery program was blunted. Here’s a revealing passage from the Post story:
‘Once, as Romer pressed for more stimulus spending, Geithner snapped. Stimulus, he told Romer, was “sugar,” and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.
Wrong, Romer snapped back. Stimulus is an “antibiotic” for a sick economy, she told Geithner. “It’s not giving a child a lollipop.”’
Geithner has outlasted other key economic policy makers who recognized the need to deal with the jobs question, and the Post story claims that it’s his insistence on deficit reduction that now is the Obama policy.
As the Obamans gear up for 2012 I guess they assume either that the economy will be sufficiently improved and/or the Republican candidate and policies will be so distasteful as to provide the basis for victory. Maybe—but quite likely not. So in addition to the misery current policy perpetuates for millions, it risks putting into power what has become a quasi-fascist Republican Party as disillusioned working people sit it out, and large contingents of Midwestern white workers vote GOP.
If there’s any hope—and as always I think there is—it’s in the increasing tempo of mobilization on economic issues. That’s evident right now in Wisconsin, where a new’ Walkerville’ demo is happening in Madison (and folks are moving toward the possible recall of right-wing legislators in a few weeks. A rising tide of local and state level actions are ongoing.
What’s needed immediately is the formulation of some national strategy to focus the national debate on jobs with ideas about how to create them. It’s a good sign that Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, is saying the Democrats should not count on labor’s blanket support in 2012, saying that he has a ‘snootful of this sh*t’—meaning politicians who claim to be friends of workers and then compromise away their needs. He’s calling for an independent labor movement that articulates a program for workers. How this vision will be implemented of course remains to be seen.
An immediately hopeful campaign was announced by MoveOn in today’s Huffington Post,
On June 23rd, the organization, alongside former White House adviser Van Jones and The Roots, are launching what organizers are calling "Rebuild the Dream," an effort to move the political conversation away from austerity and towards job creation.
"This will be the largest economic campaign we have ever run," Justin Ruben, MoveOn's Executive Director said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The goal here is to really change the debate and refocus it on the stuff that is necessary to create jobs and make the economy work for regular people ... It is unreal that with widespread misery across the country, Washington is focused on closing the deficit and giving tax breaks to millionaires."
I’ll try in this space to try to report more fully on emerging movement potentials with respect to jobs and the economy. I urge you to do this too. And let us know what you know.