As Paul Krugman aptly summarizes, “recovery” is today's fool’s gold. Good news about the economy -- higher holiday sales, lower unemployment filings – feeds a truly dangerous beltway conventional wisdom. “We’re in recovery, now it is time to tighten our belts, cut spending, and reduce government deficits.”
But nearly 10% of Americans remain unemployed. That translates into over 20 million people in need of full time work. And young, non-college educated minorities are still suffering a Great Depression, not a new recovery. When Congress convenes, job #1 ought to be jobs.
In a rational world, Washington would be flooded with jobs plans -- a green corps, an urban corps, a new WPA, modeled on the old new deal program, a massive, concerted effort to rebuild our infrastructure, and more. But outside of the realms of the Congressional Progressive and Black Caucuses, there isn't much talk about jobs.
Here the contrast in the New Year’s radio messages between the president and the incoming Republican legislators was forbidding. President Obama got it right:
We are...riding a few months of economic news that suggests our recovery is gaining traction. And our most important task now is to keep that recovery going. As President, that’s my commitment to you: to do everything I can to make sure our economy is growing, creating jobs, and strengthening our middle class. That’s my resolution for the coming year.
And he added, a short term boost isn’t sufficient, we’ve got to “make some serious decisions about how to keep our economy strong, growing, and competitive in the long run. We have to look ahead – not just to this year, but to the next 10 years, and the next 20 years. Where will new innovations come from? How will we attract the companies of tomorrow to set up shop and create jobs in our communities? What will it take to get those jobs? What will it take to out-compete other countries around the world? What will it take to see the American Dream come true for our children and grandchildren?”
The president called, naturally, for bipartisan cooperation in this effort, but don’t bet the house or even two bits on it. Speaking for the “87 new Republican members of Congress” and the “13 new Republican Senators,” newly elected New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte announced:
“Job one is to stop wasteful Washington spending.” “The American people sent us to Congress with clear instructions: make government smaller, not bigger.”
What about jobs? Well, the tax cut deal is a “good first step.” “Get Washington out of the way,” and business will create the jobs.
This, of course, is simply refried conservative beans, the same dish they’ve been offering up for over thirty years.
But that’s the problem, not the solution. There’s no recognition of the scope of the devastation to families, to workers, to the economy. No recognition of the global straits we are in, with the surplus trade countries sustaining their mercantilist growth policies, even while in the deficit countries, families are still reducing their debts, and businesses are sitting on cash or buying back stock or investing abroad. Where's the demand going to come from to entice businesses to expand and hire?
No sense of the impending cost of slashing teachers and police and government services as states and localities still suffer from fallen revenues. Not a murmur about the investments vital to any economic growth – not even the need to rebuild our decrepit infrastructure that even the Chamber of Commerce recognizes is long overdue.
The president has it right. Let’s hope he’s prepared to fight for jobs, and for the investments and new policies vital to long term growth. Conservative policies – from top end tax cuts to mindless deregulation – led this economy over the cliff. Now the right-wing House majority seems intent on blockading any possibility of getting out of the hole.