As the American economy continues its weirdly halting-yet-inexorable slide into chaos, tumult and despair, our illustrious “leaders” in the Bush Administration lurch once again into belated quasi-action. This President and his cronies respond to every disaster like a pee-wee soccer team chasing after the ball, in the hopes that one of them will eventually kick it in the goal. Usually it ends up well outside the field, or just outside the goal, with the entire team insisting it went in and the rest of us (as the parents) trying not to look embarrassed. Whether it’s the threat of international terrorism, a category 5 Hurricane, wildfires in California, or avian flu, the response is always both minimalistic and tragi-comic. The end results are not.
Several questions are on everyone’s mind at the moment, mine included. These are important issues that need to be addressed if we’re to survive the crash.
1. Who’s to Blame?
First, who’s fault is it? The fingers of blame are pointing wildly these days, with everyone either trying to identify the culprit(s) or deflect blame from themselves. Democrats want to blame Republicans, Republicans want to blame Democrats, some financial analysts have even said the markets are jittery because they’re afraid the Democrats will win in November. This, of course, is pure bullshit.
The markets have been on the verge of collapse for years. It’s an established fact of both physics and economics that what rises, must eventually fall. And the higher the arc is, the harder the impact will be.
The fact is, the Bush League were rank amateurs and blundering incompetents when it came to nearly every aspect of government. They started a military project we didn’t need and couldn’t afford (Ballistic Missile Defense); they lied to get us into a war we can’t win, that has bankrupted the country, and left our military broken and exhausted; they invaded a country that had destroyed three superpowers before us (Afghanistan – read your history); they gave massive tax breaks that overwhelmingly benefited the top 1% of earners while leaving the rest of us to make ends meet with growing consumer credit debt; they slashed the military budget for personnel and replaced trained, professional soldiers with unreliable, dangerous and expensive mercenaries (Blackwater).
The Bush years saw the greatest increase in both housing costs and consumer credit debt in history. Home prices in many locations doubled in less than five years, while real wages (the income of middle class Americans) grew a measly 3%. Costs of living have skyrocketed thanks to the rising demand and cost of oil (it was $29/barrel when he took over, now it’s over $100/barrel). Wages have not kept pace with inflation. In the ’70s, during the Carter years, we had a name for it – stagflation.
At the same time, the credit industry was also given free rein to take advantage of the American public. In the last five years I’ve noticed a huge increase in two disturbing areas. First, there’s the “Payday Lending” industry, a legalized form of loansharking that allows lenders to make short term loans at interest rates often exceeding 420% APR. This should be illegal, but isn’t. Second, there’s been a proliferation in recent years of consumer credit counseling services. People are strapped by the rising costs of living, and have resorted to credit cards just to make ends meet.
Add to that the rising costs of housing, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
But through it all, the Bush crowd and its loyal cronies at Fox Noise and other propaganda outlets have willfully ignored the problem. Our economy is “strong”, they said. We’re “creating wealth”, they said. And they looked the other way while corporate CEOs shipped American jobs overseas to evade regulation, health care and other costs skyrocketed, and the American middle class, the bedrock of American prosperity, continued its downward spiral into debt and despair.
Tax cuts, wars, and spiraling debt do not create wealth. It’s the road to ruin, for individuals, corporations, and for nations.
2. What do we do about it?
This, of course, is the big question. Now that we’re in the shit, how do we get out of it? The President has convinced Congress that the way to restart the economy is to give you and me $600. Wow. I hardly know where to begin, except to say that I’m sure the local oil company will appreciate it when I use it to pay my heating bill this winter. Oh, wait – according to the IRS, we won’t even see those checks until possibly June or even July. Until then I guess I’m fucked. I hope my kids don’t mind being a little cold this winter.
But wait – there’s another issue here that needs mentioning. The Conservatives that are telling us that the “Stimulus Package” is just what we need to kick-start the economy, are the same people that used to preach the “government doesn’t create prosperity, people do” sermon. Which is it, folks? You can’t have it both ways. If government is the problem when things are going well, does it make sense that it can be the solution when things turn sour?
Also, where’s the money for this going to come from? The war has basically bankrupted the government – it barely has enough funds to cover operating costs – and Bush & Co. refuse to raise taxes on the upper levels of income.
Oh, that’s right. We’re going to borrow it. Again.
So, we’ve got an economy headed straight to the pit of Hell, and a government giving us what amounts to free tickets for the ride. That burning sensation you’re feeling right now is the bile rising in your throat from swallowing seven years of bullshit.
What really needs to be done is for corporate CEOs and shareholders to regrow a conscience and start hiring American workers and paying them what they’re worth, not just what keeps the corporate bottom line at a minimum. Remember the stagflation argument earlier? Well, the people responsible for it will also be the ones least affected by the depression. They need to stop giving themselves huge bonuses and undeserved salaries while laying off workers and cutting pay at the bottom of the corporate ladder. They’re the ones largely responsible for the problem; it’s time they sucked it up and made some sacrifices of their own.
3. What happens next?
So, with all that in mind, what do we have to look forward to in the next few years? After all, it’s not a matter of if, but when, the so-called “Stimulus Package” fails to get the economy back on track.
Let’s be frank – $600 in my pocket, or anyone else’s pocket today, is not going to do squat to reverse the effects of 16+ years of profligacy, hoarding and prodigality. And I don’t see any positive signs that corporate CEOs are about to regrow the aforementioned conscience.
The way I see it, we’re headed in one of two directions. Either we all end up on the street, after the rich get richer and buy all the land, houses and apartments for themselves; or we continue to spend ourselves into oblivion, consuming oil at our current ridiculous rates until it all runs out and we all end up dressing like extras in a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movie.
Either way, I plan on stocking up on sporting goods. Best to be ahead of the fashion trends.
But before that happens, we should all march on Washington and demand something constructive be done about it. We’ll have to march, of course, because who can afford to buy gas these days?
Enough said. The End is Near! The Revolution will be televised (and it’ll be on Pay-Per-View)!
Good luck and God bless.