Friday, November 19, 2010

Why the Republicans Won: Progressives Don’t Have an Answer to the Jobs Crisis

We had a Democratic President, majorities in the House and Senate, and a mandate to do something about the worst economy since the Great Depression. What went so wrong that millions of independents ran straight into the arms of the Republicans?

The answer is that there was nothing done while Democrats had control of all three branches of government that voters believe was effective in improving the economy. Why would they give Dems more time?

And I blame us, the progressives. The sad truth is that after helping elect Obama and winning big Democratic gains in Congress in ’06 and ’08, progressives didn’t have an economic philosophy and program to hand to them, to demand they make it happen.

Sure, progressives argued for a bigger stimulus and for a public option. But even if we won those and passed cap and trade and the Employee Free Choice Act, there still wouldn’t be enough of a change in the economy to stop the Republicans from winning big on Nov. 2nd.

There was nothing proposed by us that voters could have seen, touched, or felt to believe that we were turning the economy around. There was nothing that would have made a real dent in unemployment.

And we still don’t have an answer to the 8 million jobs that were lost in this Great Recession or to the millions of good middle class jobs that have been lost to globalization over the past thirty years or to the decline in income over the past decade.

It’s time for progressives to take a long, deep look at our lack of an economic philosophy and come up with a new vision and solutions that will really make a difference in people’s lives.

The biggest problem we face in our economy is the fact that the vast majority of Americans are completely reliant on big corporations (and to a lesser extent non-profits and government) to provide us with the jobs that are our only source of income and health insurance.

Ours is a job-based economy, but the creation and maintenance of jobs is totally random, unplanned, and left to the vagaries of the market.

If there ever was a time for a massive jobs program, this was it. If ever there was a chance to convince the American public that the business community has proven totally incapable of providing good middle class jobs and that the federal government has to step in to play that role, this economic crisis was it.

But we, the progressive community, were not ready. We hadn’t come together around a massive government jobs program; it wasn’t anywhere near the top of our to-do lists. We organized for and blogged about our usual array of single-issue concerns, and we were totally unprepared for the economic collapse and had no answers because we don’t share a common economic vision.

We now need to go forward with a new progressive economic vision, and pound away with a message that we need to directly create 10 million new good middle class jobs. We need to tax the Wall St. bankers, hedge fund managers, and CEOs and use the money to create good middle class jobs, permanent jobs, not temporary construction gigs.

Who cares if we can’t get that passed in the new Congress? We need to be for something that inspires voters, and then campaign like hell against the Republicans that are against it. No more nuance, no more shades of gray. We push a massive job creation program in events all around the nation, and build our own Tea Party around it.

It seems like the voting public is swinging in a new, different direction every 2 or 4 years. With the right message and the promise of real jobs, we could be back in power in November 2012. You know that the economy won’t have created enough jobs on its own by then.

If we’re going to have a jobs-based economy, government needs to step in and create jobs, because big business is going in the opposite direction. Technology, mergers and globalization have allowed big business to significantly lower its labor costs while increasing productivity. We need jobs, but they don’t need us.

Sometimes I think we have no vision on jobs because most progressives actually have pretty decent jobs. We do interesting things, get paid pretty well, and our minds are engaged, whether we’re teachers, social workers, or part of the "professional left."

Most of us have no idea how bad the rest of the country’s workers have it. The vast majority of workers in America are fucked; they have shitty jobs that they hate and have to do on an or-else basis in order to get enough money to live. And that’s not even considering the hell of being one of the almost 10% who are unemployed.

As the main character in Office Space said, "human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements."

Right now jobs are everything: they determine how much money we have, what kind of health care, what we spend the majority of our hours doing. Jobs dominate every facet of American life. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem right, and it certainly doesn’t seem logical.

A truly alternative progressive economic vision would be to accept the fact that there will be less and less good jobs created, and just reduce our reliance on jobs, and prepare to move away from a totally job-centered economy.

If we need to tax the hell out of the rich to fund a massive jobs program, it would actually be more efficient to give the money directly to working people. A basic income of about $1,000 a month for everyone making less than $100,000 a year would provide enough to at least cover our most basic needs and give us the ability to work a lot less if we want to. Or work smarter, work better. Take classes to get better jobs. Spend more time with friends and family. Have a better life.

The right wing crazies in the Tea Party movement propose stuff that’s batshit crazy all the time. But it moves the entire national conversation to the right. Isn’t it about time that we on the left have something as simple and clear and truly left wing as Robin Hood economics, taxing the rich and giving it to everyone else? They call us socialists anyway and accuse us of trying to redistribute wealth; why not be out there for something that may be a little socialist but would clearly be in the economic self interest of most people?

After thirty years of trickle down economics from the right, how about some Rise Up Economics from the left? Whether it’s a massive government jobs program or just giving a basic income to all working people, we desperately need a new progressive economic vision.


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