Barbara Ehrenreich, AlterNet.
Here’s some unique imagery on the current economy…
With all the talk about how to stimulate it, you’d think that the economy is a giant clitoris. Ben Bernanke may not employ this imagery, but the immediate challenge–and the issue bound to replace Iraq and immigration in the presidential race–is how best to get the economy engorged and throbbing again.
The conservative and liberal proposals are worrisome. Bush proposed to give out tax rebates — except to those earning less than $40,000 a year, a move described as “disaster capitalism” by Naomi Klein, wherein disaster is turned to the benefit of the “haves.”
The liberal proposals sound good, and they are good: Increase food stamp allotments and extend unemployment benefits — both excellent ideas. But why the concern….?
The economic rationale for more a progressive stimulus package, which we hear now several times a day, is that the poor and the freshly unemployed will spend whatever money they get. Give them more money in the form of food stamps or unemployment benefits and they’ll drop more at the mall. Money, it has been observed, sticks to the rich but just slides off the poor, which makes them the lynchpin of stimulus. After decades of hearing the poor stereotyped as lazy, stupid, addicted, and crime-prone, they have been discovered to have this singular virtue: They are veritable spending machines.
The liberal proposal is based simply on the fact that the poor and unemployed spend every cent they get. I’m thinking it might be because they’re hard up for cash? Maybe?
If we have learned anything in the last few years, it is that the economy is no longer an effective measure of human well-being. We’ve seen the economy grow without wage gains; we’ve seen productivity grow without wage gains. We’ve even seen unemployment fall without wage gains.
Yes, the economy has been “booming” in the past several years, but not everyone is doing well, as one might think. The rich really are getting richer, and the rest of us are getting poorer.
In fact, when economists want to talk about life “on the ground,” where jobs and wages and the price of Special K are paramount, they’ve taken to talking about “the real economy.” If there’s a “real economy,” then what in the hell is “the economy”?
We’ve become a country with a diminishing middle class — more and more rich folks, and many more poor people. Apparently “the economy” involves the rich, who don’t live on silly things like paychecks — they live on interest and dividends!
Here’s an interesting thought….
So I’m proposing a radical shift in rhetoric: Any stimulus package should focus on the poor and the unemployed, not because they spend more, but because they are in most in need of help. Yes, when a parent can afford to buy Enfamil, it helps the Enfamil company and no doubt “the economy” too. But let’s not throw out the baby with the sensual bubble bath of “stimulus.” In any ordinary moral calculus, the baby comes first.
Now that’s some radical thinking! Help those most in need of help — great idea! People are more important than profit. Ms Ehrenreich is going to be run out of town on a rail…
My point is just that our economy–with its dizzying bubbles, wild lending sprees, reckless downsizings, and planet-wide hyper-sensitivity–has gotten too far disconnected from ordinary human needs. We could take the current crisis as an opportunity to fix that, at least in part, by shoring up government support for the needy and the dislocated. Or we can wait around and watch while the appropriate imagery gets nasty, as this ghostly creature, “the economy,” starts acting like a nymphomaniac junkie in withdrawal.
The moral of the story is, if politicians could ever find the “real economy,” they could stimulate it.