Imagine you live in the suburbs and the residence next door is sold. The new owners raze the old cottage, build a McMansion and party 24/7. The neighbors complain about the noise but nothing is done until the house is trashed. Then your city council declares the dwelling a hazard and demands that you and your neighbors clean it up. Unfair? Of course, but that's what has happened in the US, where the rich and powerful had a decades-long party and trashed the economy. Now Republicans want average citizens to pay for the repairs.
Recently New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an emotional column, "National Greatness Agenda" imploring Americans to come together and fight for our country. Why? The deficit: because the US is "careening toward bankruptcy." Not surprisingly, conservative Brooks has swallowed the conservative orthodoxy hook, line, and sinker. He thinks our big problem is the US deficit. But it's not.
The real problem is that our economy was broken by thirty years of failed Republican economics. During the Reagan presidency conservative ideology began to dominate American political discourse: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else, "a rising tide lifts all boats;" markets were inherently self correcting and therefore there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because that was a natural consequence of the free market. As a consequence, America's working families were abandoned in favor of the rich. Good jobs were shipped overseas. Inequality rose as middle class income and wealth declined. Corporate power increased while unions were undermined. CEO salaries soared but fewer families earned living wages. Then the Bush administration cut taxes while initiating an unnecessary war in Iraq. It was thirty years of economic ineptitude.
Republicans fractured the US economy because they forgot an elemental truth: our economic heartbeat requires steady consumption by working Americans not the random largess of the rich. Now, confronted with the consequences of their bad judgment, the GOP wants us to focus on the massive deficit and not consider what caused the crisis.
What David Brooks and other conservative columnists are afraid to admit is that the Reagan administration initiated a thirty-year-long war on democracy. During the Bush administration, plutocrats won and built McMansions. But the victory of corporate CEOs and Wall Street money grabbers left the American economy in shambles. Now Republicans want average Americans to pay to fix it.
Many Americans don't understand this outrage because conservatives have seized the economic message initiative and wrapped it in the sacred mantle of bipartisanship. Well-meaning folks like NoLabels.org want Americans to come together and shovel money into the deficit pit. Most of the political air space is dominated by faux deficit hysteria.
David Brooks and other deficit hawks ignore a commonsense rule: in order to solve a problem, you have to first understand what it is. The deficit isn't the problem; it's a symptom. The problem is that America doesn't have enough decent jobs. If more Americans had good-paying jobs then our economy would be healthy and we'd be generating enough tax revenue to erase the deficit. (The same conclusion was reached by members of the Citizens' Commission on Jobs, Deficits and America's Economic Future.)
So what should we do? Conduct radical surgery on the economy.
First, there has to be a massive redistribution of income by increasing taxes on both the wealthy and corporations -- particularly financial institutions that profited from 2008's financial meltdown. The guys who built the McMansions should pay for the repairs. That's why it's ludicrous to continue Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.
Second, there has to be another stimulus package that not only supports America's teachers and public safety workers but also strengthens the US infrastructure, in general. For a period, Government needs to become the employer of last resort in order to retrain workers and pump money into the economy, motivate working Americans to consume again. This is why Congress has to extend unemployment benefits for those whose eligibility has lapsed.
Third, the Federal government has to be involved in economic policy. The last thirty years has demonstrated that the free market follows the path of least resistance and dictates economic policy solely based on greed. Creating wealth for a handful of CEOs isn't consistent with the national interest. What are needed now are economic policies that produce decent jobs for average Americans.
Finally, and most important, Liberals must seize the message initiative. Conservative columnists like David Brooks have negatively impacted millions of Americans. Liberals have to take back the political narrative and tell the truth about what's wrong with the economy and what political action is needed.
It's time to talk common sense to Americans. The conservative politicians and rich folks who broke the US economy should pay to fix it.