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“If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers we call him crazy. If a woman has a trailer house full of cats we call her nuts. But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.”
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 Business/Economy: This Economy Stinks Worse than You Think

Too many top economic commentators are drawn from a pool of talking heads and economists who treat the welfare of corporations as a top priority.

By William A. Collins

David Kocieniewski just won the Pulitzer Prize for his in-depth reporting on the loopholes that the richest Americans and corporations routinely exploit to minimize their tax bills. Congratulations to him! But most of his counterparts covering economics and business are a bunch of lapdogs.

Do you get your economic news from TV or newspapers? Big mistake.

Their income derives heavily from corporations that need you to buy things. You're more likely to do so if you think (accurately or not) that the economy is OK. Increasingly, well-known journalists on the business and finance beats top off their earnings with speaking fees from Wall Street outfits, according to a recent Columbia Journalism Review article appropriately headlined "Money Talks."

With notable exceptions like Paul Krugman, most of the prominent commentators who tackle the economy are drawn from a pool of talking heads and economists who treat the welfare of corporations as a top priority. This claque includes business journalists who understand that their continued employment depends on making the economy sound chipper. ...

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Trapped in the middle of this artifice is Fox News. While it too prefers to sound upbeat about the economy for the benefit of its advertisers, it simultaneously prefers to sound downbeat so as to drive President Barack Obama from office. What a dilemma.

At any rate, the bushy-tailed economists on TV (and even those on NPR) emphasize the expanding economy and declining unemployment rate. Hallelujah! Salient questions of whether those new jobs are part-time or full-time and how much they pay are often shoved aside. The news on that front isn't good. Too many Americans are taking any crummy job they can find just to keep up with the mortgage or to hold off the landlord.

Perhaps the most telling benchmark for America's economic debacle is median family income, which has shrunk by 6.4 percent since 2007, the year before the Great Recession began. No wonder the middle class is disappearing at apocalyptic speed.

Then there's the fact that another 2.6 million folks drifted out of the painful "near poor" world down into real poverty in 2010. In addition, devastating "extreme poverty" has also mushroomed to 6.7 percent of the population, a new record. (Extreme poverty is when you earn less than half of a poverty-line income. In 2010, the income for the poorest poor totaled $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.)

Looked at from another angle, the bottom line on pay rates in 2010 was very scary. The median annual wage per employee was only $26,364, meaning that half of all workers made less. Inflation adjusted, that's the lowest income since 1999. And those are just the folks who are working. If you add together those who are officially unemployed, those who have given up, and those who are part-time but seek to be full-time, it comes out to around 27 million Americans. And besides that, prices are still going up.

So is there a cure? You bet. John Maynard Keynes figured it out back in the 1930s. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented it. What you do is have the government hire poor people to build stuff. You know, schools, bridges, parks, ports, works of art, and all those wonderful projects that date back to the WPA. I attended just such a great high school which still serves as our city hall today, complete with enough original murals to be a tourist attraction. Yes, the country went way into debt, but when the Depression and World War II ended, we paid it off.

Today's Republicans "just say no" to similar plans. Obama's stimulus package got us off to a good start, but the GOP soon squelched it. They want the recession to last at least until November so that the public will vote out you-know-who. And why not? Corporations are doing OK.

Plus there's no danger that it will all be explained on TV.


OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative 3.0 License, and distributed by Otherwords.org, a project of Institute for Policy Studies, IPS


[27 April 2012]

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