There is job hysteria for a reason

Not everyone can afford to "ride out" the slump, as they're being instructed to do by some employed pundits


February 5, 2010 3:05AM (UTC)

The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein tells me on MSNBC that the American people shouldn't expect Washington to be able to do anything about jobs because it's the result of "imbalances" that have to be "worked out" and it's going to take time and people just need to be patient and take their medicine. (Mrs. Alan Greenspan agreed and added this hysteria over jobs in Congress is all just politics in the wake of Massachusetts.)

Those are excellent observations from successful political celebrities who have jobs and are among the wealthiest Americans who can afford to "ride out" the slump. For most people, who aren't any of those things, not so much.

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I assume that Pearlstein's fellow WaPo writer Harold Meyerson wrote about the dismally inadequate job proposals on the table before today's jobs numbers were released, which makes his criticism of the government for failing to directly create jobs all the more poignant. As he says, it's not as if the government hasn't directly created jobs before:

In the winter of 1933-34, with unemployment close to 25 percent, FDR aide Harry Hopkins put an astonishing 3 million people on the federal payroll in just 90 days, repairing airports, military bases and schools. This in a nation of just 130 million people -- the equivalent today would be around 7.5 million. Hopkins and Roosevelt faced the same criticisms -- over the size of the deficit and the growth of the federal government -- that Obama and the Democrats face. But the New Dealers persisted throughout the 1930s, reducing unemployment; building roads, airports and bases; and securing the allegiance of voters for decades to come.

Today's Democrats seem to lack the urgency, compassion and spine of their '30s forebears. Obama's proposals fail to challenge the conservative narrative that government can't engender worthwhile economic activity, so all we can do is cut taxes on business and hope for the best. No narrative is more in need of challenging, but Obama has demurred at the very moment he must make the affirmative case for government. With the private sector economically unable to produce jobs, and the public sector politically blocked from doing so, we are condemned to a long, dismal decade.

They could do it. But they don't want to upset their corporate benefactors (who have shown they are more than willing to sacrifice the country if anyone tries to dictate to them) and simply pray that the magic voodoo of the markets somehow brings everything around so they can go back to their comfortable political sideshows and stimulating war porn.

I suspect this is less a lack of spine than it is an unwillingness to challenge market orthodoxy and right-wing political cant, which they have internalized even more than the average American (who has benefited far less). And those who do have the imagination to see another way are powerless in the face of a political system that is at the mercy of an unprecedentedly disciplined political opposition and a Senate that no longer even tries to hide its constitutional function as the protector of the wealthy. It's a problem.


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