America — and the rest of the world, really — is living with this political equation: Our collective spending, guided by government, is needed to create jobs and stimulate a global economy still in recession. But political rhetoric is turning to spending cuts and deficit reduction. Such steps will plunge those who can least afford it into yet more joblessness and poverty. But the worse it gets — the more joblessness, bankruptcies, health crises, repossessions — the better the deficit reducers will do at the polls, because many economic victims will blame the wrong side. And, gutless moderates will go along with the deal thinking they can ride safely to shore on the surfboard of deceit.
It’s an upside-down political equation, and I’m damned if I know how to erase it from mad teachers’ blackboards. Let’s review. Deregulation of the financial markets, tax cuts for the rich and the right-wing assault on the nation’s infrastructure (remember Grover Norquist dream of drowing it all in a bathtub?) caused a deep global recession. They are the causes of our economic misery. But what’s the dominant narrative recommend? Why, more deregulation, more tax cuts for the rich, and deeper cuts in public education, health care etc.
This is madness, of course. And the craziest of all are the poor suckers who keep taking the bait. They will suffer the most economically, and their children will pay the price as well.
In a book called, The Price of Altruism — really a biography of mathematician George Price — there are long passages about the evolution of the Darwinian free marketeers, the Milton Friedman types who keep promising that if we will simply divorce all economic activity from any accountability whatsoever — from the courts, from the cops, from legislators, especially from voters — then we’ll all get ice cream before bed and rise happy in a new dawn.
But these guys are loons. You read about how they did their so-called economic science and it goes like this: We are afraid of the communist bugaboo, and we need an economic ideology that will make us rich even if it makes many, many people poor. So, let’s, uh, make up an equation like this, and another like this, and abracadabra, presto-muy-dinero, we’ve got it! In other words, more upside down equations.
In the end, of course, the presence of these shady nutjobs among us simply makes the argument for a little regulation with bite, for an equitable tax system, for investment in our schools and health care systems. We shouldn’t go overboard. I don’t like big government any more than I like big corporations. We should be vigilant, engaged, and skeptical of authority of all kinds.
And we should quit being fools.