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August 16, 2010 08:39 PM UTC

The Man and the Plan

  • by: JO

For purposes of efficiency, cliches accepted as true in this post:

–the “Great Recession” that started in 2007 was the worst downturn since the Great Depression that started in 1929.

–The Great Depression, as measured in unemployment, didn’t really end until Lend Lease (March 1941), almost 12 years after the Crash, i.e. until manufacturing military gear got the United States started on what evolved into the military-industrial complex that continues today.

–There is a lag between what economists call the “end of the recession” (economic growth resumes, however slowly) and what many/most people regard as recovery (when jobs are plentiful).

That said, Obama appears to be arguing that really, things aren’t that bad, the Bush recession has ended under his watch, things have stopped getting worse and will eventually get better, so be patient, don’t blame me for your unemployment or job insecurity, and give it time.

Bad plan, won’t work. Truth (from On High): Unemployment is Issue #1 at a time when the combination of unemployment + underemployment (involuntary part-time) + discouraged and out of the market totals at least 16% (and probably more; we don’t know with any accuracy how many people stopped looking for a job because they figure the prospects are poor to none). Beyond the numbers of un- and underemployed there is also an amorphous sense of insecurity among many who are still employed, which can be just as damaging in the political arena. Thus this is no longer mostly an economic issue (although it is that, too); it’s primarily a political issue, not entirely separate but definitely distinct. Whatever the statistics, inching up and down from month to month, the general perception is that the job market stinks. And it is General Perception who rides atop his Great Charger in elections, not poor old Lt. Factoid hunched over his computer, madly manning his Google Fact Generator.

If the Great Depression, as defined as unemployment, lasted a decade or more, it’s hardly surprising that Obama hasn’t caused the Great Recession to go away in 18 months, especially in light of stubborn intransigence and obfuscation by Republicans. It was in light of that obfuscation, and efforts to mollify certain Blue Dog Democrats in early 2009 (some locally known and now running for office) that Obama had to ratchet down the scope of the economic stimulus. The package that eventually emerged helped, but was insufficient. (I refer skeptics to Krugman et al.; I personally refuse to argue this point on this site.)

Matters not. The public turns to the president to do something, and that Something ain’t happening fast enough.

So, what to do?

As I suggested in another thread over the weekend, Obama needs to articulate The Plan. A plan that can be described and sold as a specific course of action. A plan that lets Republicans defend the Do Nothing position if they so choose (and they certainly will do that). A dramatic, specific plan to put lots of people to work pronto. A plan that simultaneously makes needed investments to renew aging infrastructure and lays the groundwork for a new non-carbon energy economy, including a new national transportation system that relies more heavily on rails (both passengers and freight), that retakes the global lead in telecommunications networking (i.e., 30 gigabyte broadband everywhere at low cost), puts in place a smart grid that, broadly speaking, also includes a new network of renewable electricity generation (mostly wind power), and a national network of recharging stations for electric cars, alongside more efficient switching of power where it’s needed and the ability to manage demand…the list goes on and on and on. The Plan to Invest in Our Future. Investments involve spending (building a building, for example), but are distinct from spending for ongoing operations, and thus distinct from a “deficit.” A company isn’t accused of operating at “a deficit” when it invests in new facilities, equipment, etc., cash flow notwithstanding; neither should be the government.

During the previous worst downtown, in the 30s, a similar Plan by FDR went under the name New Deal and had acronyms like WPA and CCC, which not only employed people temporarily until the normal civilian economy revived (or, should we say, until the military-industrial economy got rolling), but also left behind lasting improvements (including many visible in national parks in Colorado). FDR himself said it: let the Republicans attack, let them resist. He recognized the futility of trying to persuade people who refuse to even consider the possibility of consideration.

Time is late, and I fear that Obama is rightly criticized for lack of boldness in addressing deep-seated economic problems that go way beyond the current downturn (notably deindustrialization and the loss of jobs that elevated many working families into the vaunted middle class).

The fact that it’s late to get started on presenting a coherent Plan for Recovery doesn’t mean it’s too late. But it does mean there’s not a moment to lose.


4 thoughts on “The Man and the Plan

  1. …with your post.  Unfortunately, I don’t see Obama doing any of this.  He has repeatedly proven that he would rather capitulate to Republican demands in the name of “bipartiship,” rather than fight for the progressive agenda.

    1. Right in the sense that’s what Obama is doing.

      In ways and for reasons that merit further exploration, Obama & Co. has allowed Republicans to define the terms of the debate — mostly about the deficit as an example of how the size of government needs to be reduced, lest the Collection Agency come by your grandchild’s house to collect his/her share of the national debt! [Close the curtains, hide the children, don’t answer the door! Boogyman’s a comin’!]

      The misconceptions and misleading statements about these subjects are staggering, almost as staggering as the abysmal lack of sophistication about Economics, as manifested in comments on this very site within the past 24 hours.

  2. Obama needs PR help BADLY!  The message is not getting out.  Things ARE turning around.  Here in SW Florida, one of the most “recessionist” locations, home sales are up again, and some prices, too.  Not all due to the recently expired credits.

    Local Sun Hydraulics, a world wide major maker of specialty, uh, hydraulics, has sales up over 50% of a year ago.  They are actually now running a bit of OT!  

    When the Second Republican Great Depression hit, they put everyone, everyone, on a two weeks on, one week off schedule.  This actually qualified most people for unemployment and kept total income close to normal. ‘Effing brilliant.

    Now they don’t need to find, hire, and train for particular skills and positions, they are rolling.

    Obama needs to find a hundred similar stories, give them a name a la New Deal, Morning in America (great one!), or Great Society.  This isn’t political rocket science but it seems to have escaped the leadership.

    Way back when Obama Who started coming on strong, my research showed that he was wishy washy, preferring making everyone happy over finding and defending a stance.  This is a major reason I didn’t get on board until he was the last Dem standing.

    Well, well, well…….  

  3. The ultimate expression of “disaster capitalism” has been the attempt by the “free market” acolytes (and there are many) of Milton Friedman to institute a truly “free market” in the US in the wake of 911.

    The Bush administration, run by a cabal of powerful allies (including a small army of sold out Democrats), eviscerated regulatory agencies, sanctified lying and theft, and opened the national treasury to all their friends at the Fed, Wall Street, the Club for Growth, the Chamber of Commerce, and a host of well dressed, thieving hooligans in boardrooms and penthouse offices across the country. They have a purpose.

    One only has to examine the story of the first years of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa (told very well in “The Shock Doctrine”, by Naomi Klein) to see clearly the kind of ruthlessness typical of Big Money.

    The most powerful businessmen in the country, along with their privately held politicians, are doing everything they can to bring down this president, destroy his agenda, and get back to looting the nation with gleeful abandon.

    As long as corporatists can continue to use social issues as a wedge to keep working and poor people at odds with one another, they can keep us distracted and impotent. They are very good at what they do.  

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