More Front Page Stuff

In today’s (May 5th) New York Times, Bob Herbert writes:

“The challenge for the working press right now is to see if we can … focus in a sustained way on some other important matters, like the cratering economy, metastasizing energy costs, the dismal state of public education, the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or the damage being done to the American soul by the endless war in Iraq. …”

“Economists were exhaling Friday because we only lost 20,000 jobs in April. After all, we lost 81,000 in March. Never mind that we need to be creating millions of jobs if we’re ever going to get our economic house in order. With credit cards maxed out, real estate prices falling and enormous amounts of home equity already drained, a good job is the only way to put real money into the hands of cash-strapped families.

“Americans are hurting on the jobs front. Those who are employed are working fewer hours and for less pay. Some sectors are crippled by unemployment. There are big-city neighborhoods in which the real jobless rate of young African-Americans is 80 percent or higher.

“Do the candidates have concrete strategies for engaging these problems? Could we hear about them? Explore them? Critique them?…”

Earlier this year, in his January 19th column, “Good Jobs Are Where The Money Is”, Mr. Herbert criticized the nation’s leaders (?) by writing:

“I think of the people running this country as 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 …”

It isn’t the policy now either. Those presently in charge have decided that token “Economic Stimulus Payments” of $ 300 apiece to about half the nation’s populace would solve our economic woes, while the “wannabe” presidential candidates are pushing for a summertime “gasoline tax holiday”, which would save each motorist a paltry $ 28. Economists are unanimous in their opinion that these two brainstorms are preposterous because no jobs are created by either move.

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.