The latest jobs figures show that the persistent warnings against austerity by Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and other top economists continue to come true with Cassandra-like vengeance. Hopes of recovery aroused by winter bumps in private hiring have been dashed again. This seems to have happened every summer since the 2008 crash.
Private sector revised job figures show an average of less than 90,000 per month since January – less than what is needed to accommodate increases in the workforce. Unemployment officially inched back up to 8.2 percent.
Workforce participation rates are still at all time lows. Statistical anomalies created by the warm weather induced error into earlier reports; reduced exports and a slowdown in manufacturing aggravated it. Uncertainty about Europe and gasoline did not help and constitute a grave risk for U.S. markets, according to the latest statements from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Result? The underlying horror story of mass unemployment and underemployment, public layoffs and assaults on economic, labor and civil rights, on vital services, on health and education continues to unfold. Extremist agitation on the ultra-right, an anti-science movement, racism and nativist groups all threaten a heightened atmosphere of violence, intimidation and repression.
If Republicans, with complacency from Blue Dog Democrats, take the White House and/or the Senate in November, the situation will become a lot worse.
Do not forget the repressive consequences of the 1968 Nixon victory over a divided Democratic Party. The defeat of the recall of anti-labor Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin will embolden the right further. The vote was close, however, and on the plus side two of the recalled Wisconsin state senators who helped gut Wisconsin workers’ rights to collectively bargain stayed recalled and Democrats took control of the state senate.
But the right-wing aim to divide and conquer was pervasive. They aimed to exploit any possible difference between private sector workers and public workers, people with and people without pensions, people in the cities and people in rural areas, people in unions and people not in unions and even between firefighters and police on the one hand and the rest of the public workers on the other. These divisions and a Democratic Party in Wisconsin not fully agreeing to focus on what triggered the recall in the first place – the attack on collective bargaining rights – resulted in a situation where Walker was able to define the main issue not as his attempt to kill unions but as whether it was fair or unfair to overturn his election before he had a chance to complete his first term. While the right-wing spendfest sharpened the message of the Republicans it made some Democrats wary of taking the kind of strong stands needed to move working people suffering during the current economic crisis.
Such divisions among Democrats and a potential wave of bad economic news can combine to threaten President Obama’s reelection. A month ago Romney and his fawning pledges to the lunatic, fascist currents in the Republican Party made him more of a joke than a serious candidate. But no more.
Labor and progressive forces must double-down on unity to prevent a national Walker-like regime from seizing power. The basis of that unity is partially revealed in the Krugman and Stiglitz books: understand the “paradox of thrift” – if an individual is in debt, they must cut expenses, but if a government – meaning ALL of us – is in debt, in a depression, cutting expenses, which means cutting more jobs, only get you deeper in debt, and deeper in depression.
Many private sector workers – 25 percent of Wisconsin union members, according to the Hart research poll, bought into the false arguments of the Walker campaign: “Why should I be recalled for asking ‘big labor’ to chip in their pensions when you don’t have one?” Krugman calls this misunderstanding the paradox of thrift on a social scale where each of our incomes is someone else’s spending.
That’s because he still buys into the standard macroeconomic model of a classless “economic actor.” What makes sense for the capitalist – (like expanding private vs. public wealth) – impoverishes workers. Cutting your fellow worker’s pension makes the one you lost even harder to recover. Krugman actually voiced the hope that the banker-political class in the EU and the U.S. would “see the light” more clearly as catastrophe approaches — much as the mind of a man condemned to hang becomes focused. But there is not much historical evidence of that happening until revolution is at the gates.
The dangers of this moment remind me of the price paid in Nixon’s rule after defeat of the divided Democrats in 1968: repression, murders and provocations dramatically escalated against civil rights and anti-war movement leaders.
Today the right wing’s Achilles’ heel is that it has no solution to the depression. Its economic program – like Romney’s – is a fraud. In a nutshell: lay off more people, cut taxes for the rich. This coarse and foul message is usually wrapped in ice cream wedge-issue flavors: same-sex marriage haters, birthers and racists, anti-choice fanatics, immigrant haters, etc.
Both Krugman and Stiglitz give a vigorous standard Keynesian remedy to the depression – a new stimulus and broad-based public employment, regulatory and investment intervention, double to triple the size of the original Obama $700 billion stimulus bill. But both the liberal and reactionary capitalist forces and most of the current political classes are ignoring Krugman and Stiglitz.
We may not be spared our own version of the Greek dilemma, and the ideological drama playing out there in an even higher level of intensity. Consider: Congress is completely nullified against any action until after the election – if Republican commitments stay on course. Wall street has reversed its 2008 eight to five support for Obama over McCain – now its two to one or more, counting super PACS, against Obama.
Every Republican governor is trying to do to the African-American and Latino vote what Walker has done to labor rights in Wisconsin: repress and suppress it by any means necessary. Defense is more divided this time, but energy and ag-biz and real estate are all Romney, and are pledging a billion dollar fund to defeat Obama.
High tech and entertainment is for Obama, although entertainment is reported by OpenSecrets to be slipping. Overall fundraising is still in favor of Obama, but Romney is gaining, and that does not count super PACs.
Re-electing Obama is not sufficient to bring economic recovery or even relief to our people. Only a different class configuration in political power can do necessary minimum reforms to give us a chance. But re-electing Obama is absolutely essential. Now is not the time for hand washing the complexities and tactics away – or failing to triage the most critical questions from those that are less critical. We cannot win everything at once!