Thomas Jefferson listed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” among what he called “inalienable rights.” Today’s Republicans would rewrite that as “life, liberty for the rich, and inalienable anxiety for the rest.” (More)
We squirrels know something about anxiety. If you don’t believe me, just watch us eat when we’re out in public. We’re always looking around, ready to dash away and hide if we sense a threat. It’s not a relaxing way to eat, but it helps most of us stay trim and fit. That’s good, I guess.
Maybe that’s the Republicans’ health care plan for hardworking Americans: a life so spartan and anxious that the fight or flight response becomes our national exercise program. I suppose we’ll be sure when some prattle pot writes a book with a title like Worry Your Waist Away!
Back in July, for example, Gallup chair Jim Clifton wrote a piece titled The New Normal: Big Unemployment:
Perhaps America’s political and news leaders have given up on, or simply forgotten about, the unemployed and underemployed. Apparently, Big Unemployment is the new normal. Sure, the president and Congress address it, but rarely in an urgent way.
Actually, President Obama did address it, in an “urgent way,” back in 2011 with his proposed American Jobs Act. He addressed Congress. He gave speeches around the country. And House Republicans refused to even allow a vote on it. After all, reducing unemployment would boost President Obama’s reelection chances, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans’ number one priority was still making Obama a one-term president.
Median household income in the United States in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different in real terms from the 2011 median of $51,100. This followed two consecutive annual declines.
The nation’s official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marked the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates. The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn.
The report’s one ray of good news was a tiny 0.3% dip in the percentage of Americans with health insurance. So of course Republicans are queuing up yet another vote to repeal Obamacare and bullying non-profit groups who try to help people find affordable health insurance.
Republicans also say the 15% poverty rate is proof that anti-poverty programs don’t work, never mind that most of those programs aren’t counted in measures of official poverty statistics. And never mind that poverty was far higher before President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. If it’s not down to zero, the Republican argument implies, we may as well just give up.
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.
Republicans would tell you that’s because people make bad choices, but new research shows Republicans have the cause and effect reversed:
The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.
One policy change might be to replace other anti-poverty plans with a Guaranteed Basic Income, which would also boost employment as employers would supplement rather than provide their employees’ basic incomes. You’d think business leaders would like that idea, but economist Michael Kalecki explained back in 1946 why that’s not true:
We have considered the political reasons for the opposition against the policy of creating employment by Government spending. But even if this opposition were overcome – as it may well be under the pressure of the masses – the maintenance of full employment would cause social and political changes which would give a new impetus to the opposition of the business leaders. Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, “the sack” would cease to play its role as a disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined and the self assurance and class consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension. It is true that profits would be higher under a regime of full employment than they are on the average under laissez-faire; and even the rise in wage rates resulting from the stronger bargaining power of the workers is less likely to reduce profits than to increase prices, and thus affects adversely only the rentier interests. But “discipline in the factories” and “political stability” are more appreciated by the business leaders than profits. Their class instinct tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view and that unemployment is an integral part of the “normal” capitalist system.
In short, high unemployment helps bosses maintain leverage over workers, who dare not complain lest they lose their jobs and be unable to find another. For many bosses sustaining that personal experience of privilege matters more than making money. And that’s why Paul Krugman thinks this bleak economy isn’t a temporary blip:
But won’t there be an ever-growing demand from the public for action? Actually, that’s not at all clear. While there is growing “austerity fatigue” in Europe, and this might provoke a crisis, the overwhelming result from U.S. political studies is that the level of unemployment matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of change in the months leading up to the election. In other words, high unemployment could become accepted as the new normal, politically as well as in economic analysis.
I guess what I’m saying is that I worry that a more or less permanent depression could end up simply becoming accepted as the way things are, that we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.
And if too many stressed out people start coming to work with guns and opening fire on their former coworkers … well, clearly more people should take guns to the office, so they can defend themselves from recently-fired colleagues. Because nothing says “workplace safety” like a good crossfire.
At that point, you’ll all be eating like squirrels, Worry Your Waist Away! will top the bestseller lists and – because stress reduces life expectancy – Social Security and Medicare would be saved for the relaxed rich. Then Republicans could unveil their new campaign slogan: Your struggle proves our worth.
Good day and good nuts.