01/29/2008 04:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's Really Get Real About the Economy

A lot has been written and voiced about on television about how few economic policy differences there appear to be among the Democratic presidential candidates and about how the race for the Democratic nomination is largely about personality, style and campaign funds. This isn't the case at all, and while there are certainly some common elements and shared views, the differences that do exist are significant and worth noting.

Just today, Steven Rattner, one of Senator Clinton's senior economic advisors (and also her national finance co-chair), in a piece entitled "Let's Get Real About the Economy", said that right now our economy is confronting nothing more "than a cyclical purging of excesses". If this op-ed accurately reflects the Clinton camp's view of the current state of the U.S. economy, then their rose colored glasses are pretty seriously fogged up.

Let's look at the facts since Mr. Bush became president:

  • Middle class incomes have stagnated the entire time, the price of oil has more than tripled, and the dollar is at historic lows against virtually every foreign currency.
  • Half of the nation's individual income now goes to just 2% of the taxpayers - which means that it takes the other 98% together to earn the other half. Wages for most Americans have stagnated every year. And income inequality, which has increased every year since 1992, is now at its worst since 1928.
  • 5 million jobs have been lost overseas, including 3.3 million manufacturing jobs and more than 1.6 million service jobs, and economists now say that at least twenty percent of all jobs in our economy today - that's 25 to 30 million jobs - could potentially be sent off shore over the next decade.
  • The gross federal debt has grown by $3.3 trillion, personal debt has increased by $6.9 trillion, and the nation's cumulative trade debt has grown by $4.3 trillion.
  • The number of Americans living in poverty has increased to 37 million.
  • And 7 million more Americans - now 47 million in total - are without any health insurance, despite the fact that most of them are working full time or are the dependents of workers. And another 50 million Americans are chronically under-insured.

In addition to not recognizing a recession even when it hits the nation smack in the face, the Clinton economic team, in this op-ed, has the temerity to characterize people who are demanding substantive responses to these serious ills in our economy as simply a "Greek chorus of perennial economic pessimists". They also declare that the financial markets have almost no blame for the credit and mortgage crises we are in, and that criticisms of the nation's financial policy makers are nothing more than uncalled-for "diatribes".

And so at the very time when we need to be focusing on just how much damage the all-powerful debt industry geniuses and their self-serving schemes have done to the economy, all of the Republican candidates and now even some Democrats have made it clear that they want to continue the deregulatory legacy that was started by Hoover, revived by Reagan, largely unchallenged by President Clinton, and mastered by George W. Bush.

The reality is that many of the terrible things that are happening in the financial markets and to our economy are the result of just one thing -- the gutting of the consumer and worker protections that for decades kept corporate insiders from ruining the American Dream for the rest of us.

With the blatant support of many in both political parties, the far-right economic policies that were last advocated by Herbert Hoover in the 1920s have been resurrected, and just like then they are failing miserably. Once again, Wall Street is having its way with Main Street, and economic security for ordinary Americans is plummeting so that insiders can get rich.

In contrast, every day since he started his campaign to become president, John Edwards has said that what we need is a fundamental change in direction. And that we need economic policies based on the clear and simple principle that government is the people's servant, and that its job is to provide -- without compromise -- opportunity and certain basic rights and protections for all of us.

Like his two opponents for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards has specific plans for short-term economic stimulus, for resolving the mortgage crisis, and for reining in credit card abuses. But unlike Mr. Bush's stimulus plan, which Senator Clinton's surrogate calls a "remarkable agreement", John Edwards' plan does a much better job of addressing the real problems of America's middle class.

John Edwards believes that it is a particularly serious mistake to put a $50 billion business tax giveaway ahead of steps to extend unemployment insurance and food stamps, help the states out of their current budget crises, better assist families facing foreclosure, and build a jobs-based infrastructure for the new energy economy. These are the steps which would better help the people suffering the most from the weak job market, accelerate our economic recovery, and create immediate new jobs across the land to replace some of those which have been unfairly lost.

But in addition to short-term economic stimulus, John Edwards believes that we need to do much more, and that we need to do it quickly. He has again called on President Bush, on our financial regulatory agencies, and on Congress to bring back those consumer and worker protections that have been ripped apart by selfish economic policies and by the too-friendly-to-big-business practices of the last 10 to 15 years. And he has again called on them to immediately start to address the massive trade imbalances which, one way or another, are crushing most American workers and families, causing wages to stagnate like almost never before, and driving literally millions of good-paying, high-quality jobs overseas.

These are the facts of the "real economy", this is no "cyclical purging of excesses", and it would be nice if Senator Clinton's economic team would get real about all of this.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Senior Economic Policy Advisor for Senator John Edwards. He is managing partner of the media private equity firm InterMedia Partners.