The Coastal Post - June, 1996

It's The Stupid Economy

BY FRANK SCOTT

News of stunning insignificance is treated as earth-shaking bulletin when a presidential candidate decides to devote full time to his losing effort. We are on the way to a campaign in which issues like who has seen more combat—in a bedroom or in a war—will be newsworthy. Meanwhile, it will be left to minor party candidates to broach the subjects of most importance. There is nothing more important than the performance of our economy, currently being praised by one side and degraded by the other, all for the wrong reasons.

Ralph Nader's presidential run has seemed like a stealth candidacy so far, and may never reach the greatest possible audience, but he has already identified the economy as the major issue for the nation and the world. Clinton and Dole are not in the same universe as Nader and their campaigns will mask the seriousness of this election year.

In 1994, those leading us to failure were replaced by those who would speed up the process. In 1996, the choice of a lesser evil is forced on people concerned about their nation's short-term needs, but ultimately we must come to grips with our long-term economic problem. If we don't, the future will amount to choosing between tentative, mincing steps toward social disaster, or bold, crazed leaps into chaos.

While breathless reports inform us that Dole has removed his tie and chosen a new image, the substance of economic reality escapes notice. As eager pundits tell us, Clinton's lead in the polls make him unbeatable, the economic context in which we live remains unexplored. Divisions between Americans grow deeper and more serious, but while race, ethnicity or sex receive some attention, it is economic dysfunction that is causing the most problems. Candidate Nader is addressing the issue of this economy and its dangerous tendencies toward greater inequality and wider gaps between classes, while the major candidates raise money for campaigns that will have all the substance of ads for Nike shoes or Toyota cars. And that is the result of—to paraphrase the '92 Clinton slogan—the stupid economic system that rewards corporate wealth with more wealth and places the expense for that on the backs of an ever more insecure majority of working people. Of course, we can be called stupid for not seeing it, but were the Europeans slaughtered by Nazis all stupid for not having seen the reality to come? Or were their leaders stupid for not having warned them? Retrospective IQ tests won't reveal what happened then, but the thing to do is to change what might happen now and create an economy that rewards the most people, instead of the least.

Our system of free markets regulated either by the firmly invisible hands of conservative god, or the limply visible hands of liberal god, is outmoded and leading us to a depression that could be worse than anything in the past. One deity insures—with a vengeance—that minorities profit at majority expense, while the other shields the poor from total chaos by taxing the middle, thereby insuring the ruling status of the same creators of both religious cults. The present conflict between a fundamentalist clergy that wants no government interference at all, and a more benign priesthood that wants greater market domination by global capital, domination of reality; they merely represent different masters, some nicer to their slaves than others.

An economic system should not be glorified when it throws millions out of decent jobs and lowers their standard of living. It should not be praised when it increases the tax burden of 90% of citizens while lowering that of the top 10%. When market forces create multi-millionaire CEOs and impoverished workers, palatial estates for a few and diminished housing stock for many, inflated profits for HMOs and declining health care for seniors and children, something is seriously wrong with that system. Yet it remains unchallenged and unquestioned by major candidates, who gloat over increased creation of low-paying jobs and prisons, or complain about welfare, crime and immigration, which are all by-products of the stupid economy.

The bipartisan balanced budget frenzy, NAFTA, GATT and countless other issues reveal similarities between the major candidates. Now that Dole has removed his tie, we may soon find him lowering his pants in pursuit of the MTV vote, while Clinton bites his lip, feels our pain and looks brilliant compared to the plodding hack from Kansas. The real choices for voters are in Congress, where the combined Black and Progressive Caucus has created a budget which becomes balanced in the only sensible way: by cutting military spending and corporate welfare, two untouchable areas for the high priests of the economy. These forces within Congress are still a minority, but could become a majority with public support. They call for an enlightened form of government spending to renew our economic life, one that is based on a tax system that stops the disgraceful trend toward greater individual wealth at the top, and fights against corporate control of reality.

The Progressive-Black Caucus warrants attention and support for the future, even as many will select a lesser evil in the present. But the greatest evil is the stupid economy. We won't have a decent nation until we face that fact, and work to make the economy intelligent. Listen to Nader, hold your nose in the voting booth, vote Democratic, and stay tuned.