Starvation As Policy

Times are tough in the US. Everyone seems to know that but as always seems to be the case we can’t agree on the cause of it or how we can fix it. I have my own ideas, of course, and I’ll get to those in a moment, but I wanted first to discuss the larger issue in the context of this article from Bloomberg concerning the long-term unemployed, particularly this paragraph:

The view that desperation will force the unemployed to get a job, which seems to drive Republican opposition to extending federal benefits, just isn’t supported by the data. And that’s leaving aside the moral problems with starvation as a policy strategy. Moreover, the long-term unemployed who have lost benefits have especially little chance of finding work, research from economist Rand Ghayad shows.

Starvation as a policy strategy. That’s a very frightening statement, especially when it applies to what is still a major political party in the US, a party that has the power to make and influence policy, and whose ideology has, in fact, been the primary political force over the last thirty years or so. I would very much prefer not to believe that the politicians and their financial backers who support this idea of “kicking the poors”, as Atrios would say, is something good for society, or that they would rather those of us (like myself) who have found themselves locked out of the job market would just get it over with and die rather than be a burden on everyone else, but it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.

In keeping with the tone of this blog, it should be clear to everyone that what we have now simply doesn’t work, that deregulation and “austerity”, that an economy -no, a society– built entirely on the idea that the acquisition and retention of wealth and power is the primary purpose of said society, does nothing more than make everyone, rich and poor alike, miserable. Why should we want to live in such a world? Why do we work so hard to make things difficult? Why, when a poor person who is struggling sees someone making more money and has better benefits, thinks not “how can I improve my life?” but “how can I bring that person down to my level?” Further, why do we idolize and make celebrities of people whose only skill is having been born rich: whose incompetence is hidden by the vast sums of money that have because of birth or connections? I don’t have an answer to any of those questions, but I don’t think the why is necessary, what’s necessary is to change that.

You would think that we would have learned this lesson by now, that there really is no such thing as a “free” market, left to itself it can be as oppressive as any Communist dictatorship. It should be painfully obvious that the private sector alone is incapable of providing full employment: it takes a combination of public and private sector employment for things to work better, and a strong social safety net so that those who fall through the cracks for whatever reason need not suffer. But I think that type of economy, which dominated the US from the inception of the New Deal until the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, is long gone and not coming back, at least I doubt it will in my lifetime. It seems to me that the reason it won’t is because we’ve lost the sense of outrage that was what brought about the New Deal to begin with.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with the rich or with the idea of wealth to begin with. I am perfectly happy to let Donald Trump and Paris Hilton live their lives and do what they do, whether they become celebrities or not, it’s really not my business. Even the Koch brothers, whose influence on our government is, I believe, damaging and dangerous, have a right to be happy and live lives of luxury, whether they earned their money or not. I’m not one who cares to make those sort of judgements.

But the problem is that people like the Koch brothers, and like Mitt Romney, are never satisfied with the amount of money they have. They could own the Earth and still it wouldn’t be enough, and the impression I get is that it doesn’t matter to any of them how much the rest of us have to suffer because of their greed. I see it as a sickness, and again, I don’t have an answer as to why they think the way they do. But we have a right to stand up to them, to make sure that while they play their little games and pretend to be Masters Of The Universe, the rest of us can still lead happy, financially secure lives. And I’m sure most people in my economic sphere would agree with me.


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