Many articles have rolled off the presses about the current Great Recession, all of them given to responding to what is involved - the symptoms, and a cogent argument about what should be done.
The New York Times has had a number of thoughtful articles addressing the Recession. We'll move through a few that stand out as meaningful and caring about the suffering caused by the Recession so far and the danger of it continuing. The economists Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett focus on the effects of long-term unemployment in their article. They conclude that "neither political party was prepared to deal ... with long-term unemployment," because there was an expectation that the economy would soon revive.
In the second half of their essay they broaden the scope to the question "What can be done?" by describing Germany's program of keeping employees working fewer hours with subsidized wages saved on unemployment benefits. OK, but that program did not become a universal answer here, and the unemployed in general continued as almost helpless, wrapped in their self-defeating emotions, discouraged, and losing their skills.
Though the article comes to no practical "answer" to the Recession, it does tell us that unemployment as a personally traumatic experience is shared by all the unemployed and their families, and the rest of the salaried workers through frozen wages, and those whose homes were ripped from them for falling behind in mortgage payments caused by lowered income and high rates. All salaried workers and their families have been subjected to the egregious effects of the Recession caused by those who are too rich to know what that means.
Another voice in the Times is that of the popular food expert, Mark Bittman, who picks up on those blameworthy powerful "who value profits over everything," skirting passed all of the values of decent humanity, those of "mental, spiritual and physical health of human beings," including "the well-being of the planet" itself." He readily admits that these values are not so easily achieved, but that "survival is a team sport," and certainly necessary for reorganizing government, implying that the government itself must be governed by these values - not those of the blameworthy powerful.
Lastly is the voice of a person who experienced the first Great Depression as an orphan, speaking with emotion, from the traumatic effects of that time, he emphasizes the warning of the economists mentioned at the beginning of this commentary which becomes a plea for answers, real answers, before the loss warps the very structure and ideals of this nation:
"A lot of justified anger amid useless advice and fogged support of a failed system. I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression. Grew up during its terrible years. But at that time most people I knew (South Bronx) didn't have any extras like cars and houses and debts. Why was the time "terrible"? No jobs, no "other" income or backup (no savings, no bank accounts, no investments, no retirement fund, no insurance, no well-off relatives), and no government help as with unemployment coverage, no safety nets of any kind at all, personal or public. We had no gifts for any occasion - no birthdays, no Christmases. But lots of meager meals of oatmeal and sugared toast. And, what happens when someone dies? Who can afford it? No money, certainly not enough to pay all the bills. Neighbors with babies terrified of being cut off from heat in the winter, and of everyone fearful of losing electricity. Radio was the only connection to the outside world of news and entertainment (most of it plainly intended to get the public mind off the realities around them): FDRs' Fireside Chats, tales of "The Shadow," Jack Benny, Mayor LaGuardia reading the comics (we couldn't afford the papers). But the times were not so terrible for the many rich who weathered the Wall Street bust. Like today, we became aware that there was a split between the rich and the newly made poor. Even the kids knew anger, felt it especially from the men, idle, nothing to do, while there were others, who didn't need jobs, hardly touched by the losses we faced every day. And now it is happening again, once more to feel so angry and so helpless, knowing that there are those untouched, uncaring, or just plain insulated by ignorance. What hope can anyone like us have after two such catastrophes in our lives?
Finally though, there is hope, as repeated over and over again in a new book, "End This Depression Now!" by Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist. Following are items selected from an interview about the book, between Julian Brookes and Krugman, published in Rolling Stone. The selections reflect the essentials of his argument, relatively brief and to the point.
Krugman dedicates his book to "the unemployed, who deserve better." Unlike many economists who refrain from mixing emotion with reason, Krugman begins with feeling. And then goes on with an argument that is clearly confrontational, tense with reason and passion directed against those who have failed to turn back the Repression that was dumped by the rich corporations on the people, particularly on the workers, of the United States. First he finds fault with the Obama "stimulus," about which he asserts, "I was very publicly tearing my hair out, saying this is way inadequate." And then concludes "sure enough, it was."
He then turns to the failure of the "austerity" programs in Europe. "Two years ago," he admonishes, "it was, 'Slash now, or you'll turn into Greece,'" already in a Recession. Then goes on to "Now people are saying, 'If you do austerity at a moment like this, you'll turn into Europe,'" in full Recession.
Krugman, draws from the first Great Depression experience which Franklin Delano Roosevelt inherited and met with practical programs that rebuilt the country and its economy through work - public jobs supported by the Administration. He justifies his position to spend, not slash, asserts that "the federal government needs to step in and spend. A lot. On debt relief for struggling homeowners; on infrastructure projects; ... on safety-net programs." He even mentions a figure: you could get a lot of stimulus, about $300 billion, just by providing aid to states and localities so they can reverse their budget cuts. That would create a million jobs, including those 300,000 schoolteachers that were laid off."
In other words, Krugman is urging action now, spending now, to get out of the deadly grips of the Repression.
The Deficit? Krugman agrees that the deficit needs careful attention and action, but insists that the country must get out from under the harm and hurt of the Recession first, only then would private enterprise have a safe, dependable market necessary for its role in a sane capitalistic structure. The interviewer, hesitant to judge Krugman as having the only and perfectly "right" answer, sums up the meeting with "On the positive side, people are starting to look at the train wreck that is Europe, where austerity has failed-and how-to produce growth . . . and concluding that people like Krugman - who, truth be told, has been right about a lot in recent years - might be on to something." A deft conclusion that should engage the reader, leaving him/her with the decision.
George Sebouhian is a Fredonia resident.