Job dried up,
The money’s bad;
Moved back in
With Mom and Dad.
I love economists — they’re so optimistic. Maybe they’re no used car salesmen, but they’re never as gloomy as the data they traffic in. The reason for all this sunshine is plain enough — it’s what they’re paid for. With few exceptions, the only economists we hear from work for Wall Street, Congress, the White House, big media, or other groups with a public axe to grind.
Those with a darker view generally toil at universities, labor unions, think tanks, or the CIA. They rarely get invited to TV studios or newsrooms. To learn their opinions one must forage among alternative websites or subscribe to certain listservs. That’s because gloom is not popular in the corporate press, and surely not with advertisers.
Well, maybe that’s a trifle harsh. Actually the press adores gloom as long as it only refers to the hardship of an individual family. Readers and viewers thrive on such personal tribulation, trying to visualize what they would do in a similar plight. The media’s only fear — which it seems to share with Wall Street and some politicians — is that people might emerge from such travails to demand reform for the whole society. Heaven forefend that revolutionary flowers such as living wages, economic stimulus packages, single-payer health care, “fair trade,” or fairer taxation should blossom from this garden of personal anguish.
One easy way to discern the political coloration of any economist these days is to listen for his or her description of what sort of jobs are being created. The “whoopee” ones lump all employment gains together into a single promising figure. The more credible analysts break the data out by sector. That way we can get a handle on whether we’re talking about full-time or part-time jobs, benefits or not, burger flippers or computer geeks.
Mostly this news is bad. Temporary and part-time work is all the rage. Health coverage is rare, pay is low, and retail and hospitality are where the action is. Of course government is where the decent jobs are, but the new Republican leadership in Washington and many state capitals is busy demolishing them. Health care remains the one big growth industry, but employers are importing workers for many of those jobs.
Naturally much of this suspect optimism comes from Wall Street, where stocks are doing just fine. Many U.S. corporations are in swell shape selling goods that they make in foreign countries to buyers in other foreign countries. This trade is largely untouched by American hands, except for its untaxed profits when they slip back into the country.
Symbolic of Washington’s response to this national economic crisis is President Obama’s choice of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to be chair of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. What an inspired appointment! GE is infamous for making its products overseas, paying no U.S. corporate taxes, squeezing its unions, and rewarding Immelt himself with tens of millions in pay.
Instead of such greed, what America clearly needs at this moment is another, bigger stimulus package. We need more control over the jobs our corporations send overseas. We need New-Deal-style public works projects, plus a return to higher tax rates on the rich. A few responsible economists are recommending those very actions, but they’re not the sleek ones you see on TV.