When I heard that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had picked Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, I cheered. Finally – a Republican shamelessly on record calling for abolishing Medicaid, cutting Medicare, privatizing Social Security, giving the finger to the uninsured, the unemployed, unions, the middle class, minorities, immigrants, women – you name it. A man declaring he wants to follow in the austerity footsteps of European bankers who have brought their entire continent (minus the more socialist and social-democratic of nations) to recession in the midst of the still-ongoing global depression!
No one may be able to figure out if there is anything stronger than vapor behind the words of Romney, since he has flip-flopped so many times. There can’t be more than 20 people outside of Romney’s family who have the slightest idea what he stands for. All of his support is simply anti-Obama constituencies: the rich (who are pretty sure Romney’s not going to raise their taxes), the racist and nativist anti-immigrant groupings who are not sure Romney won’t “betray them,” neo-fascist groupings masquerading as religious organizations, and a large number of men who appear to be blaming all the wrong people for their declining incomes and bad luck in these times.
Choosing Ryan for VP clears up matters for a lot of folks who weren’t sure if Romney was a “severe” conservative. Romney is a tool of the banking and financial services industry first of all. The joke that Ryan is a “serious intellectual” instead of a fraud has been promoted by ‘Faux News’ ever since he became the de facto spokesman for “lets-cure-the-depression-by-laying-off-more-people” policies.
Paul Krugman has exposed this promotion in detail in the New York Times on several occasions — the latest just this week. The loss in federal revenues from Ryan’s budget proposals will be greater than the savings in expenditures. That does not even take into account the pain and suffering endured by millions of Americans unable to find health care, unable to retire, unable to live, under the draconian cuts in services he advocates.
But what about the Obama program? The President is resisting all the cuts Ryan and the Republicans advocate. So, the choice of who to vote for in the presidential election is perfectly clear. There is not much worse that can happen in the next three months besides a Romney/Ryan victory in November.
But political gridlock, and, I would argue, the declining clout of the labor and people’s movements within the Democratic Party leadership, is taking a toll on the willingness of the Obama administration to take the steps truly needed to get out of this depression. In four years official unemployment is only two points off its 10 percent peak in 2009. The drag in public employment, in particular, driven by Republican austerity filibusters, is threatening to pull the rate even higher. The official rate disguises many kinds of unemployment.
The more reliable indicator is the workforce participation rate, which is still in decline, and now sits at 63.7 percent of the working age population (age 16 and over). This is the lowest level since the 2000 tech bubble recession.
Obama has numerous jobs proposals, but all focus on tax or other concessions to corporations – not direct federal, state, or local government hiring. Contracting out (the focus of much of the 2009 stimulus) is notoriously more costly and inefficient in addressing unemployment than direct hiring. Relying on tax incentives to corporations works fine once the economy is growing again – but is nearly worthless while still in a depression.
The strategy and tactics of this time means defeating Romney/Ryan and re-electing Obama/Biden. The alternative is moving further in negative territory. But it will not be near enough to fix the depression, reduce inequality and restore the promise of a rising standard of living to working people. For that, the people will have to do some heavy lifting themselves.
I predict it will all soon become much clearer. “Critical junctures,” as economist Daron Acemoglu’s research has shown, turn the phony arguments of elites about austerity for everyone else to dust.
In 1941, had not the critical juncture of World War II arrived, Roosevelt would have left office with 16 percent official unemployment, mired in growing congressional gridlock over “too much debt.” The attack on Pearl Harbor blew all those debates away in a single day. So it will be. We don’t know what the “externality” or the “juncture” will be. A super-hurricane, hostile Martians landing in Key West, a return of the Black Death from the latter Middle Ages in Europe, whatever…
But it’s coming!