I've been watching the gyrations of the stock market and the feeble minded responses to our 'economic crisis' with fascination--the same fascination with which one witnesses a car crash that happens to someone else. I have witnessed two such car crashes and there was a surreal quality to them. I saw them happening. I knew people were hurt. But I couldn't prevent them; I couldn't help; and, they didn't really affect me in any long lasting way.
As I watched the stock market over the last decade, it's ups and downs had the same quality. Whether the market went up or down, my economic situation has remained fragile. Jobs have become harder to get and harder to hold on to. I have yet to find a job that will pay for my life and I don't live extravagantly. Most of those jobs paid so little, I ended up resenting the time I spent doing them. And the situation has gotten worse over time no matter what the stock market did. Tenuous jobs, few pay raises that didn't even reach the inflation rate no matter how low that was, reduced hours when I did get pay raises. I know the whole trickle down theory says that when those at the top profit some of the benefits will 'trickle down' to the people below them. Unfortunately, it isn't benefits that have been trickling down but a couple of bodily excrements I won't name.
Of course, I am not one of those Americans who have retirement accounts or brokerage accounts or investments on which I am depending for income. However, from what I have been reading and hearing, many of them don't feel very secure or well off at the moment. I wouldn't either if the portfolio I depended on lost between 11% and 20% (depending on where you start counting) of its value. Does anyone remember when President Bush was pushed for the 'privatization' of Social Security and promised a much better return on retirement funds if only people could take control of the money they paid into Social Security? I do. And I remember the stories concerning who would be handling those investments. Because of the volume of transactions and the amount of money involved, only a few of the largest banks and investment houses would be able to do the job. Just the ones that have taken massive write-downs because of the housing melt-down or have taken a big hit on the stock market drop. 'Oh,' you say. 'The market will bounce back. See, it gained back 300 points over the last two days.' 'But,' I say. 'How long will that continue? And do we really want to gamble what we save for our old age, if we are lucky to have the surplus to save, on what is a legalized crap shoot?' That is all the stock market is--a legalized crap shoot.
It amazes me how quickly the President and his minions (including Fed Chairman Bernanke) decided the economy, heretofore described as so strong and robust, needs to be stimulated. And then the package that came out of bi-partisan negotiations (but has yet to be voted on) is something beyond belief. Tax credits to business, which one news story said will be spent on new equipment? Point one--most of our equipment is now manufactured overseas. Buying new equipment will boost other economies not ours. Point two--new equipment usually means companies will be able to reduce the work force, which means fewer Americans will be working and, therefore, fewer will be paying their mortgages, credit card bills, or shopping in the malls.
The Democrats initially proposed expanding food stamps and unemployment benefits as the quickest way to get spending power into the hands of those most likely to spend the money--the poor and the unemployed. But that is something Republicans don't ever want to do. Does anyone remember the scene between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle's father in 'My Fair Lady' where Doolittle responds to Higgins' suggestion that Doolittle was one of the 'deserving' poor? Doolittle tells Higgins that he is one of the 'undeserving poor' and likes his condition just fine, thank you very much. The notion of the 'deserving poor' is a very nice Victorian concept. Some of the poor deserve help and some don't, it is just a matter of deciding who belongs in which group. How this concept works in the current political climate can be seen by the fact that the Democrats dropped extending either program in exchange for the Republicans agreeing to limit the rebate program to middle and lower income people. The unemployed and food stamp recipients are the undeserving poor.
A further example of how this works is the story on MSNBC today involving the State of Mississippi and its intention to divert funds supposed to rebuild public housing, rebuild poor neighborhoods and small business damaged during Katrina. What do they want to do with those funds? Completely renovate and modernize the port area and include, while they are at it, casino and resort facilities. I don't think it is an accident that the amount they want to divert is exactly the sum originally earmarked for rebuilding facilities that benefited the poor. Nor do I think it is accidental that funds earmarked for rebuilding more affluent neighborhoods and benefiting wealthier citizens has already been disbursed. Again, the poor and marginal people are 'undeserving.'