Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's the jobs, stupid

By Libby

The consensus on how bad our economy is, and how to fix it, is as muddled as the results of the Democratic caucus in Nevada but Bob Herbert has a good take on it today, starting with this observation.
From 1980 to 2005 the national economy, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. (Because of population growth, the actual increase per capita was about 66 percent.) But the average income for the vast majority of Americans actually declined during that period. The standard of living for the average family has improved not because incomes have grown, but because women have gone into the workplace in droves.

The peak income year for the bottom 90 percent of Americans was way back in 1973 — when the average income per taxpayer (adjusted for inflation) was $33,001. That is nearly $4,000 higher than the average in 2005.
Herbert proffers a clear-eyed solution to the current morass that has crossed my mind as well. The Villagers would do well to take a clue from it.
I’d start with a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of putting large numbers of people to work and answering a crying need. The infrastructure is in sorry shape. New Orleans comes to mind, and the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

The country that gave us the Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe ought to be able, 60 years later, to reconstitute its own sagging infrastructure.
As you know, I'm no policy wonk but it seems to me to be simple common sense that we need more than a bandaid solution now that the shards of the burst housing bubble have sliced the jugular vein of our economy. A one time rebate of a few hundred bucks isn't going staunch the bleedout of the working class cash flow.

Herbert is onto something here. People at the bottom of the pyramid need long term, decent paying jobs. America needs to rebuild an infrastructure that has fallen into ruin as its critical operations have been increasingly privatized and the big businesses who run them plow the profits into their CEO's pockets instead of preventive maintenence.

When the dereg rage started, its proponents told us that the free market would deliver better services at lower rates. It seems glaringly apparent to me that the experiment has not only failed but is destroying our quality of life, even as it builds a new generation of robber barons.

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