Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Can we stop pretending politicians "Manage the Economy?"


I have just come up with a theory.  The classic, timeless, legendary bumper sticker "It's the economy, stupid" slogan from Bill Clinton's Presidential campaign, did two things.  1) It kicked off two decades of  the North American political discourse's degeneration into an endless, thoroughly farcical theatre production of politicians making their whole exchange with the public about demonstrating their "credibility" on the "economy". 2) Although it was likely the Clinton campaign's goal to address this slap-down remark to his opponent and thereby derive electoral benefit from it (a goal that was achieved, hence the phrase's legendary status), the remark in hindsight can be said to have changed the nature of North American democracy.  The stated claim of every North American politician since is that their opponent(s) is stupid for not being sufficiently focussed on the economy, or stupid for having misplaced their focus from where it should be, the economy, and you should thus choose them.  This is misleading.  The real message, one I think most people a hear, is that we the electors are "stupid" and need to be constantly dragged back into line by our elected leaders and reminded the only thing that is important to them, because it is the only thing they condescendingly assume is important to us, the voters who grant them power: the economy.

This is why we live in the vacuous and pathetic world of prime time politics, where the average person wonders why chronically under-funded pension plans, record breaking debt and deficits, mother nature rearing her ugly head and saying she's not taking our shit any more, and the constant stream of mismanagement, bungling, meddling, corruption and incompetence we see in our political system are nowhere to be found in politician's speeches, sound bites, or debates.  Why is what we can so clearly see so elusive to the people who are supposed to be dealing with it?  Because we live in the real world and they live in a dream world, one where lies, acting, image, make-up, and bullshit all matter a lot more than changing a system that after all pays them handsomely.  But don't worry.  Just trust them on the only thing that matters, the economy.

As someone who has not managed to tune out nearly as much political propaganda as I should have, I'm used to hearing political messages that feature ridiculous slogans rather than substantive ideas.  And that might be tolerable if they weren't so bloody repetitive.  "A low-tax plan for jobs and growth."  What politician in North America, Liberal or Conservative, Republican or Democrat, Left or Right, did not sum up their plan this way in any campaign or political advertisement in the last five years?  What kind of morons do they think inhabit this continent? Do we look like a bunch of fucking monkeys? (Excuse my language) "Duh...low tax...uh...jobs...and um...growth.  Cool.  I'm voting for that guy." (checked box)

The guy who says something true for once "You didn't build that..." gets assailed.  Yet it is true that the roads, airports, bridges, sewers, dams, nuclear power plants, and ports small businesses and all of us rely on generally require investments of magnitude not possible for the holy "private sector" to finance, and certainly not in the able to be drawn from the capital of sacrosanct "small business". 

Scarcely a day goes by when we don't read nauseating platitudes about "innovation", "small business", "growth", "entrepreneurialism", and the economy.  They are all good things.  They do create new ideas, new ways of doing things, and livings for people.  But what do politicians think they have to do with any of it?

Well, the consensus is after four years of low-growth, stagnating economies in all of the developed countries that something must be done.  Even though enormous amounts of public sector intervention were required just to maintain a bare-minimum, low-growth stagnation (and don't kid yourself Canada, without your commodities and oligopolies you're just as bad as Greece and everybody else), your presidential/prime minister/premier/Liberal leadership candidate swears her knows just what it takes to get the economy humming again.  A nip here, a tuck there, squeak squeak squeak and we're back to 3.5% GDP growth into infinity.  There will literally be walls papered with ipads in every household if you vote for me.

So Mr Hudak/Romney/Flaherty says this: "Businesses are holding back on investing in equipment and hiring workers because of uncertainty and runaway government spending.  So let's cut their taxes, "drain the swamp of red tape" and loosen the regulations and bureaucracy they can deal with, so they can "create jobs".  But if they don't create said jobs, the government will be deprived of more revenue which will cause an even bigger deficit, so won't that create more uncertainty? I guess you didn't hear them.  Just keep chewing on those words.  Create jobs.  Good, middle class, private sector jobs.

Meanwhile over in enlightened Liberal land we respond to our economic woes with a different sort of delusional chimera: The middle class.  Grind your teeth together and growl the words "Create jobs" if your conservative, and allow the mist to pass over your eyes and get out your most saccharine whine if you're Liberal - to say "the middle class".

It seems to me if there were a group in society worth using government money we don't have to help, it would be the "low" class.  Or the "underclass".  But uneducated, malnourished, poor people living in squalor and beset by a litany of social ills do not have any money, and so cannot contribue to our broken and defunct economic paradigm.  But educated, indebted, overextended entitled suburbanites who already receive an enormous amount of taxpayer support, whether it's through their CMHC insured mortages, their RRSP deductions, the roads they commute for hours in their leased cars on, the heavily subsidized commuter trains they take to work downtown, the agricultural subsidies that maintain food prices stable despite the loss of farmland their houses were built on - are tapped out.  They can't take it any more.  We need to make life easier for the middle class so they can spend more money on cars, tvs, and furniture and get the economy going again.  Even though there is no evidence of a shortage of cars, tvs, or furniture in the suburbs.

This was essentially Barack Obama's argument in the debate I watched.  And while I agree with him that the 1% or 0.001% have effectively run away with their consolidation of wealth in America, his thesis of "Our economy doing better when the folks in the middle class are doing better" is overly simplistic and dishonest.  More consumerism is the last thing that is going to ease the pain of North America's debt, deficits, unemployment, underemployment and social wreckage.

Then there is the most irritating politician in Canadian history, Justin Trudeau, getting on his soapbox in the star yesterday to complain about the decline of Canada's middle class saying people who don't see it don't get out much.  His concerns, among others, were that our children would not have as bombastically rosy and dreamy a world as we do and that Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto have become unaffordable cities to buy property in.  Yeah, and what power does a Canadian Prime Minister have to rectify any of that, you jackass?

If politicians were honest, they would admit that the abdication of personal responsibility in North America, the sacrificing of savings and thrift at the altars of speculation and consumerism, has caused the middle classes' current woes.  The thrust of their discourses reveals the total cynicism and calculation that dominates the environment in which they and their handlers operate: poor people don't vote, suburbanites do.  Even broke or tapped out suburbanites don't like to think of themselves as "low-class".  Come to think of it, who does?

When North America has a functioning economy again, one that is based on providing real goods and services for real needs and real demand, our society's health will be restored.  Until then, everyone talking about our current societal economic model based on artifice, greed, future-mortgaging, lies, and exploitation is blowing smoke.  If we allowed entropy and creative destruction to hollow out the cancers and vested interests that hold our society back, people's minds and abilities would thrive again.  That will happen when governments give up their awkward and misguided attempts to "manage the economy" and allow the status quo to die.  We need to tell them to stop driving the bus that's driving us into oblivion and let it crash, so we can all get out and build a society without them and their idiotic, entitled, delusional ideas.

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