In the 1960s, when the peace movement called for reductions in arms spending, otherwise 'neutral' economists would say "you can't cut back on armaments without destroying the domestic economy!" As President Eisenhower had said in his farewell address, we had become dependent for our prosperity on the arms race and the "military-industrial complex" the arms race supported. So peace was an enemy not just of war, but of prosperity too!
Fast forward forty years and we hear a parallel argument today: as the country stumbles into recession, people like me arguing against hyper-consumerism, the infantilization of adults as impetuous shoppers and the undermining of democracy by a privatized commercial ideology are told "you can't attack consumerism without undermining prosperity and deepening the recession!"
Too often capitalism has tied itself to American vices: an arms race, shopoholism, dependency on imported oil, and then cried foul when reformers try to treat the dependency. "See what you've done? You've stopped people from taking out mortgages they can't afford and now the housing market has collapsed! Shoppers are staying away from the mall and refusing to buy all those goods they don't need, and the economy's going down the tubes! Next thing you know, Americans will start taking public transportation instead of driving gas-guzzling cars, will start saving instead of spending - acting thrifty! -- and then we real really be in a mess!"
Almost all of the proposals for dealing with the looming recession are about getting bucks back in the hands of consumers so they will start spending again! But exuberant spending is what is inflating the trade deficit, wrecking the dollar, draining savings, and allowing foreign investors to buy up America -- not to speak of corrupting American morals.
So here's my question for the candidates: how do you suggest we get out of recession without getting into trouble? Without encouraging all those bad habits of too much spending, too little savings, too much foreign energy dependency and too much borrowing that have gotten us into our economic morass to begin with? How do we create a prosperous economy that does not depend on Americans buying not only more than they can afford, but far more than they need or want!?
Whoever can answer that question -- or even understand it! -- gets my vote.
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