Front Page Stuff

We ended Article 6 in this Volume when we printed two questions posed by a Pennsylvania CEO and directed at the presidential candidates. And we added a brief query of our own:

“When are you going to tell the American people about the country’s trade problems? …When are you really going to do something about it?”, the CEO asked. Then we asked, “How?”

By now it should be obvious to the nation’s voters that if a solution to our economic woes was of any concern to the candidates, we would more than likely have heard about it during these farcical campaigns. Campaign rhetoric is meant to get voters “shook up”, as most people know, otherwise a ho-hum contest wouldn’t get front page treatment. And Americans, after all, read only the front page … as Will Rogers was so quick to point out. [For example, look at the successes achieved by the “business of fear” initiated and promoted by the current administration. Front page stuff.]

But let’s get back to the questions mentioned above. Especially the “how”. Bob Herbert’s column appears regularly in the OP-ED pages of the New York Times, and on January 19th of this year he gave his readers a lot to think about. “Good Jobs Are Where The Money Is”, was his headline, and here’s some of what he wrote:

“I think of the people running this country as the mad-dashers, a largely confused and inconsistent group lurching ineffectively from one enormous problem to another.

“They’ve made a hash of a war that never should have been launched. They can’t find bin Laden. They’ve been shocked by the subprime debacle. They’re lost in a maze of health care.

“Now, like children who have eaten too much sugar, they are frantically trying to figure out how to put a few dollars into the hands of working people to stimulate an enfeebled economy.

“They should stop, take a deep breath and acknowledge the obvious: the way to put money into the hands of working people is to make sure they have access to good jobs at good wages. That has long been known, but it hasn’t been the policy in this country for many years …”

“That has long been known”, Mr. Herbert wrote, and he must have had in mind the often-used truism that by giving a man a fish you feed him for that one day, but by teaching that man how to fish you’ve given him the means to feed himself every day. That’s probably one of the few fish stories with an element of truth in it, but even so, the brain trust in this current administration has paid no mind to it.

The case in point is the so-called “Economic Stimulus Payments” being offered to more than 130 million U.S. households. At an estimated $ 300 per person, this $ 160 billion dollar package should just about provide enough fish for a couple of meals, but it certainly won’t provide any jobs. Not a single one, as a matter of fact.

Bob Herbert wrote, “Good jobs at good wages — lots of them, growing like spring flowers in an endlessly fertile field — is the absolutely essential basis for a thriving American economy and a broad-based rise in standard of living …”

“I’d start with a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of putting large numbers of people to work and answering a crying need …”

“The possibilities are limitless. We could create an entire generation of new jobs and build a bigger and fairer economy for the 21st century. If only we were serious,” he wrote.

Well, we must get serious. There’s no other option. An all-out effort must be made to devise a labor-intensive system so that “working people” can be put to work. How else could one “put a few dollars into the hands of working people to stimulate an enfeebled economy”? By the government’s “2007 Economic Stimulus” program? What an incredibly stupid move!

Buying power is what fuels an economic engine, and U.S. citizens now have limited amounts of that propellant. Inflation, unemployment and a limited amount of buying power translates into a hopeless future for Americans … unless they can be taught how to fish.

Mr. Herbert mentioned a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. He was on the right track but didn’t get specific. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCCs), for example, was an attempt to provide work during the Great Depression, but it was a “make-work” effort. Little was produced by this well-meaning attempt to shorten bread lines, and although some benefitted by the effort, today’s needs call for more productive steps. Today’s version of the CCCs, the inhuman “war that never should have been launched”, has made a shambles of everything here and abroad.

What should be the purpose of a rebuilt “American infrastructure”? Should it be simply to revive a CCC-like program of NRA days? Unproductive “make-work” programs aren’t the answer. The multi-billion dollar burden of a make-work warship building program is proof of that.

Rebuilding the American infrastructure would be a must, provided that it supported worthwhile employment, but the construction of warships doesn’t constitute worthwhile employment. There’s no ROI (Return On Investment) when taxpayer money is spent on warships. On the other hand, there’s a considerable ROI when taxpayer money is spent on the construction … and ownership … of merchant ships. Especially container ships.

Oh, but we can’t compete with overseas shipbuilders without subsidies! is the cry of the ignorant. Those overseas rulemakers be damned. We’re talking about desperate times … about Americans without jobs and without homes. In World War II, our last legitimate national emergency, very few people were without jobs, and fewer still were without homes, but we rose to the task and dealt with that national emergency. And we made up our own rules, too, because that’s what nations do in times of crisis. Well, we’re worse off now than we were then and desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s time to subsidize the construction of merchant ships rather than warships.

As the French would say when things got tight, “Sauve qui peut”… Save yourself, if you can.