Several months ago I had a conversation with a conservative lady on Facebook, who didn’t like my suggestion that the government invest in rebuilding infrastructure, as was done during the Great Depression. She thought this would merely add to the debt that we may be handing down to our children and grandchildren. I allowed myself to get angry with her, rather than explaining why I thought she was mistaken.
Arthur R. Poskocil, a teacher at Hollins University (located not far from where I live) had a column in the local paper not long ago that articulated what I thought better than I’d been able to. Entitled An Off-balance Budget Metaphor. he points out in it that the dominant metaphor for our country’s budget crisis is that of a family. When a family gets into financial trouble they cut expenses, spending only on what they really need. A country’s economy isn’t the same. When I spend money I’m supporting your job, and when you spend you’re supporting mine. If neither of us spends, both our jobs may be in jeopardy. Republicans want to cut spending, and there’s plenty of waste and fraud for them to aim at. What we’ve seen, though, in the past few years, is the cutting of funding for police, firemen and teachers. Does someone want to seriously argue these are unnecesary?
The author mentions the brouhaha last year when President Obama, during his reelection campaign, famously said, “You didn’t build that on your own.” Immediately a lot of people said, yes, they did too. One of these people owned a cookie-making business in this area, and refused to allow Joe Biden to visit his buisness, apparently exactly because of what the president had said.
But what the president said was true, even if he didn’t articulate it very well. For the above business-owner to be able to say he’d built his business entirely by himself, he would need to have built the building in which it was located, grown the ingredients of his cookies himself, built the vehicles that delivered the ingredients to him, as well as the roads they drove on and the ovens in which he baked his cookies. “Remember, my spending supports your job and the government’s income, and vice versa. Clearly then, at an extreme level the family analogy fails totally. Instead of paying down our debt, we lose our income and go broke,” says Poskocil.
No disrespect is intended to people who start their own businesses and work extremely hard to build them. That’s not an enterprise I could be successful at, but when you analyze all the elements needed to make a business work, it’s not hard to see that without the support of the rest of society and its infrastructure, modern businesses would be impossible.
Another comparison is the building of the modern car. Were the ancient Greeks and Romans too stupid to invent such a thing? No, but they didn’t have the precursor technology to make an automobile possible. Now we have the technology and a variety of services to support a cookie-making business. Such a buisness might have been possible 200 years ago, but the elements of it would have been much different.
Republicans say they’re not in favor of welfare, but they’re against government spending to rebuild infrastructure, which would benefit them, as well as everyone else. They claim to prefer people working to their receiving welfare, but refuse to pass the legislation to get people working again, while resisting continuation of unemployment. If they got their way on that, what would be the result?
“Clearly, the best measures will support the most efficient job creation and will result in a rejuvenation of private spending that will support and create still more jobs. Tax cuts for the rich are a most inefficient investment in this respect. In our global economy, the idea that such an investment will result in more American jobs than its cost is absurd, whereas we can be very confident that tax cuts for middle- and lower-income Americans, as well as extended unemployment benefits for those forced into idleness, will be money that is very quickly put back ino the economy.
“Thus the Republican strategy, while it would spend trillions in lost revenue, would be as penny-wise and pound foolish as is imaginable. Not only do these legislators want to give to the rich, but also to cut the jobs, income and benefits of the very Americans whose then forced spending is economically as poor an approach as it is a morally bankrupt one.”
Does this mean Republicans are stupid, or is there some other dynamic working here? I seem to remember Rush Limbaugh saying there was no need to play zero-sum games when we can grow the pie to be adquate for all, but I don’t think he really believes that. There are too many people he despises and wants to punish. But even a broken clock can tell the time correctly twice a day. With the right perspective and behavior, we CAN grow the pie for all. We’ve done it before. There is, however, no guarantee of either.
If we focused, as Mr. Poskocil says, on the most efficient way of creating jobs, we could be out of this recession in a hurry. Why is it Republicans don’t want to do that? A public works program w0uld create a lot of jobs and put money in a lot of people’s pockets without it being welfare, and also create needed infrastructure. Who would lose in that scenario? Apparently some people think they would, or it would have happened long ago.
It’s interesting to look at the rhetoric of the Right, and compare it with their behavior. Mitt Romney referred to 47% of this country’s population as “irresponsible” because they paid no taxes. We have to ask, then, why they paid no taxes. Was it because they didn’t WANT to work, or because they couldn’t FIND work? Of course there are people who don’t want to work, and rich people are better placed to get away with that atttitude, though they have no patent on it, but there are a lot of people unable to find work too, sometimes through no fault of their own. Have you heard of people refused jobs because they’re “overqualified”? I don’t remember having heard it lately, but I certainly used to.
Sometimes it’s because people didn’t bother to get what education they could, or because they live in areas where there are few jobs, but there are also plenty of examples of jobs having left people. Who has benefited from that? Apparently Mr. Romney is one of the people who did, when he worked at Bain Capital.
I have a suspicion that overpopulation is part of what’s driving the behavior of the wealthiest people grabbing as much more as they can. They’re afraid that destructive change is going to come, and want to be sure that they and their families are as secure as possible.
Destructive change may very well come. Cal Thomas, the right-wing columnist, wrote two or three years ago about how people helped each other out more during the Great Depression. The intersting thing about that was that he was born AFTER the Depression, so he didn’t experience it himself. My parents and those of a lot of my friends DID experience it. One friend said his father agreed that people did help each other out more. On the other hand, my mother said that her father, a teacher, lost a third of his pay, but was better off than other people in their neighborhood who had NO income.
Our future may turn out to be worse than that or better. There will obiously be problems, but we also have some choice in how we meet them. Keeping our minds and hearts open will make us more flexible, and therefore more able to survive. I wish I’d made a better effort to explain what I think is true to the conservative lady I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.