Friday, September 7, 2007

Another Bad Day in the U.S. Economy and U.S. Politics

I checked out the news today and once more, I felt the burdens of history, or at least the burdens of being an historian who thinks that history has some relevance. The stock market is shooting down as reports spread that the loan crisis may lead to a recession, since 4,000 jobs were lost last month when they were expected to be. The economy over the last twenty-five years has hid its stagnation and decline and lack of effective purchasing power by producing more and more largely cheap labor jobs and extending more and more credit to trap people in debt. At the end of the 1920s, before the stock market crash, the economy hid its stagnation and lack of effective purchasing power through massive speculation. When the crash came, the high unemployment began to go, not all at once, but month after month, for three years, escalating from relatively small drops at the end of 1929 to 25% of the work force (by Hoover administration statistics) and 38% of the work force(by labor movement statistics) in early 1933.

Today the economists are talking about a possible "recession." But what is a recession? In 1930, the term depression was a public relations explanation for what had previously been called panics and crises, breakdowns and other bad things. Eventually, depression came to mean the general economic collapse that the early 1930s represented.

When there was a sharp downturn from the gains made in the first New Deal administration in 1937, the term recession was coined and economists later sought to give the term some meaning by contending that the difference between a depression and a recession was the number of months that the economy continued to decline before its business cycle "revival." But that distinction is artificial, in my opinion. The severity and intensity of the decline in jobs and real income and purchasing along with its longevity is the most import index and it is dynamic and open. The regulatory and social welfare wall of protection created initially in the 1930s under the New Deal government and strengthened in an uneven way until the 1970s has been undermined extensively since the 1980s. Can this crisis develop into what was called in the 1930s a depression? Frankly, given the forces in play, in the U.S. and globally, and the lack of understanding about the need to have balance in the economy, effective mass purchasing power connected to real incomes and employment not credit, and compensatory fiscal policies that do much more than just providing corporate/largely military based and related employers with contracts and massive profits out of habit (no one except a few whacked out right-wing Republicans believe today that that will trickle down into higher living standards for the people) there is in my opinion a real chance that we will see such a collapse on a global scale, a collapse connected most directly to the economic policies centered in the United States since the beginning of the Reagan era.

But what are the the politicians doing about it? Today the press is filled with discussions of Republicans. Fred Thompson is running for President and the press tells us that he is trying to portray himself as another Ronald Reagan, a Conservatives Conservative. Reagan and Thompson were/are both actors, although Reagan was a B movie leading man and Thompson, after serving as an aide to the Republican staff on the Watergate Committee and becoming a trial lawyer, became a very minor actor, got himself elected to the Senate, where he served two terms from Tennessee, and then went back to acting, where he currently plays a character named Arthur Branch, a conservative good ole boy who is the District Attorney of Manhattan on the long running Law and Order cops and prosecutors series on America's national past-time, television.

In reality, no one like Arthur Branch could ever get himself elected District Attorney of Manhattan and in fiction no one like Fred Thompson could ever get the Republican presidential nomination so who knows, he might have a chance. Most of the political commentary today about Thompson and everyone else is a combination of horse handicapping and advertising/propaganda analysis. I saw his spot on YouTube (the first thing I ever saw on YouTube).

It was silly more than anything else, something like one of those old commercials where a sleazy guy tried to sell you kitchen implements that would do everything. Thompson muttered something about conservatives winning the 1994 election because they stuck to real conservative values. That the majority of voters never heard of the Contract With America, that Clinton had divided his own party over NAFTA, and that the Republicans had their usual enormous financial advantage didn't register with Thompson. Thompson talked about federalism and opposition to big government this coming from a candidate from a party and an administration which has proclaimed since the September 11 attacks a virtual moratorium on separation of powers and built up the repressive power of the national government in unprecedented ways. Thompson spoke of his commitment to low taxes as the the basis of economic growth which is said over and over again even though it has and has had no relationship to reality (the greatest real growth in developed capitalist countries as against paper growth has come when high levels of progressive taxation and regulation largely funded such growth by providing subsidies to workers and consumers and reducing poverty and income gaps).

But why go on about Thompson. He isn't worse than the other Republican candidates and he could only win the nomination if there was a general crisis and collapse in the GOP like the one their policies may produce in the economy.

Rudolph Giuliani is worse than Thompson. He is running around portraying himself as tough on crime, tough on terrorists, tough, tough, tough, the man who brought law and order and peace and prosperity to New York.

I grew up in New York City, although I lived there off and on after 1966 and not at all after 1980. I live outside the city but I know it well. Giuliani was the worst Mayor that I can remember. As an historian, I consider him in his authoritarianism, harassment of everyone from poor peddlers to political protesters, continuation of policies launched by his predecessor Edward I. Koch of giving all he could to the landlords and the banks, as the worst Mayor the city has had since the infamous Fernando Wood, the pro confederate Civil War Mayor who wanted the city to secede from both the union and the state, become a "free city," and continue the cotton trade based on slave labor with the confederate states!

Many people though believe that Giuliani did make the city safer though and he plays on that, just as he plays on his 9/11 image, where many people think that he acted heroically, but known one can remember anything of consequence that he did.

I lived in New York during the 1ate 1970s when there were great crime scares and I know people who were denouncing crime during that period and were never robbed. When Giuliani was Mayor they told me the city was much safer even though they themselves were robbed! I guess perception is everything. Giuliani, like authoritarian leaders through the world, used force to push social problems under the rug, driving prostitutes and petty criminals out of tourist and big business central Manhattan areas and having a large visible police presence serve as a security blanket for people. That was the real Giuliani as Mayor in my opinion and the Republic cannot stand a Giuliani presidency.

Meanwhile, President Bush is running around Australia talking like Sylvester Stallone rather than John Wayne in his choice of words about the "military victories" being won in Iraq. He also seems to be very upset that North Korea is eliminating its nuclear program (how dare they! Don't they know they are part of the "axis of evil.") South Korea is interested in continuing its improvement of relations with North Korea and the South Korean Prime Minister called upon Bush to formally end the Korean War (which ended with an armed and largely unresolved truce in 1953) and Bush was angry at that. He said that it was the responsibility of the North Koreans to do that. When the South Korean Prime Minister didn't quite get that and asked Bush to be "a little more clear in your message" GW got huffy and said "I couldn't be any more clear" and "thank you" as his propagandists and an Australian professor tried to put the best face that they could on the situation. How dare the South Koreans want to end the Korean war officially and reconcile with the North Koreans? Who do they think they are? Koreans!

There is more bad news economically and politically. In Iraq, even the military industrial complex propagandists are calling the situation in regard to security "uneven." Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister of sorts, is accusing U.S. politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who have criticized him and in the case of the Democrats called for his removal of aiding the terrorists, which is what those politicians usually say about anti-war activists who criticize their policies. That would be funny if the war wasn't so horrible.

Let me end this blog commentary on a positive note. As a Marxist historian, I know that the old anarchist and ultra-left slogan "the worse the better" in that the worse things are the nearer we are to revolution is never true, but, even though things are getting worse both here and abroad, the political balance of forces here is getting better, and the likelihood of removing through a decisive defeat the right-Republicans who have largely created the worst of what we face today is greater than it has been at any time since Ronald Reagan became president. If we can win such a political victory we can begin to undo the damage to the economy and to politics which we have seen since Ronald Reagan became president, address the larger damage that the labor movement and allied progressive movements faced from the beginnings of the cold war and move the people and the nation forward.

Norman Markowitz

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