Just got round to Richard Wolff’s Friday column at Guardian.com, and he paints a macrocosmic view of why the US is in such deep trouble — and why it matters in a two party system when (a) both parties draw from essentially similar financial bases of support, and (b) one of those two parties decides to crash the ability of government to govern.
Here are a couple of excerpts:
…At the same time, the housing market remains deeply depressed as 1.5-2m home foreclosures are scheduled for 2011, separating more millions from their homes. After a short upturn, housing prices nationally have resumed their fall: one of those feared “double dips” downward is thus already under way in the economically vital housing market.
The combination of high unemployment and high home foreclosures assures a deeply depressed economy. The mass of US citizens cannot work more hours – the US already is No 1 in the world in the average number of hours of paid labour done per year per worker. The mass of US citizens cannot borrow much more because of debt levels already teetering on the edge of unsustainability for most consumers. Real wages are going nowhere because of high unemployment enabling employers everywhere to refuse significant wage increases. Job-related benefits (pensions, medical insurance, holidays, etc) are being pared back.
There is thus no discernible basis for a substantial recovery for the mass of Americans.
Wolff actually says nothing that will seem new to this blog’s readers. But still, the juxtaposition of economic and political futility in one relatively brief essay makes the message potent:
Republicans are now celebrating “American exceptionalism”, the unique greatness of living conditions in the US. Yet again, their politics stress vanishing social conditions whose disappearance frightens Americans who counted on them. In reality, the US is fast becoming more and more like so many countries where a rich, cosmopolitan elite occupies major cities with a vast hinterland of people struggling to make ends meet. The vaunted US “middle class” – so celebrated after the second world war even as it slowly shrank – is now fast evaporating, as the economic crisis and the government’s “austerity” response both favour the top 10% of the population at the expense of everyone else….
I disagree with Wolff’s claim in the piece that Democrats are trying to deal with deficits in company with the GOPers by slamming Medicare and Social Security — that bit reads more to me like easy across-the-water equivalence-mongering. More generally Wolff’s politics seem to make it hard for him to distinguish any meaningful distance between the two parties…which, as we have bitter cause to know, is not actually true.
Still, go read the whole thing. Wolff ends on a utopian note, but the hard core of the piece paints a picture of an economy in long term stasis that is unlikely to shift as long as our politics remain so bollixed by corporate influence and GOP delusions.
Oh…and have a great weekend!
Update: Paul Krugman takes a victory lap (bemusedly) on the fate of his year-ago fears of prolonged economic troubles. Did I happen to mention WASF?
Image: Georges Emile Lebacq, Ruins at Reninghe (Flanders), 1917