Wednesday, March 18th, 2009...8:50 am
Big Bubble Bath
I haven’t read New York Times’ Iraq-War-cheerleading columnist, David Brooks’ recent piece, but, hurrying out the door, I did see the opening sentences, which included his oft-crooned notion that we Americans got where we are because we are such hard workers. I ran across this saccharine sentiment on the job here with a jackass yard motorman who claims he owes “nobody nothing,” because of all the hard work he did to earn the good things he has (It was an argument against health care for poor people.) By the way, yard motormen do not work very hard at all. I’m sure most poor people would sacrifice a body part for the privilege to work his job.
This idea of US citizens working hard irritates me, because, even if they are working hard, this is a foolish plan for the future. Though David Brooks makes it sound like some kind of Biblical virtue (“Thou Shalt Work 80-Hours Weekly,”) it is just another asinine bubble.
The last big recession I remember was in the Mid-Seventies. My parents were out of work, people had to line up to get rationed gas, and the president was on the TV begging his fellow citizens to turn down their thermostats.
Then, Reagan came into office and started racking up national debt that soared beyond any previous concept, beginning the current massive bubble of debt that all the economic gurus are waiting for investors to start ignoring again. (That same debt, incidentally, is our nation’s sole approach to what all the David Brookses call “our financial recovery.”)
Bubbles are inflated values. They tell us there is something of value where there is not. You can inflate value by debt, of course, and by overvaluation of property, such as currently (still) exists with real estate. But you can also inflate value by placing things on your asset sheet that do not belong there.
For instance, Reagan and the Bushes liquidated government resources, property, and civil service positions to create a false impression of growth. Private industry did the same thing in the same period. They called it “downsizing.” A company that had been getting along with 10,000 employees would cut that down to 8,000, but still crack the whip to get the same work done, in effect, liquidating those 2,000 jobs and the pleasure lost in the lives of the 8,000 who were now working harder, all to create a false impression of growth.
We have staved off President Carter’s vision of a scrimping nation with other bubbles, too, each an important tool to inflating value, making us believe capitalism is working, when we are only getting buried deeper and deeper in failure, our comeuppance looming with disinterested patience:
The Overconsumption Bubble, which converted US dollars into Hummers (huge, domestic Army tanks,) and Give-Me-a-Wink Elmos, as if these things and the industries that created them have any value.
The Carbon Dioxide Bubble, where industry ignored the fact that carbon does not belong in the air, creating ecological disharmony that is disasterous. The idea of growth here is a bubble–a lie–because we are acting as if our industries and the mobility provided us by our pollution-pumping automobiles have created value, when, in fact they have destroyed just as much or more value in the act of creating it. Just another bubble.
The Homemaker Bubble, where homemakers were fooled into thinking they were losing their glory at home–rather, they should all be working 40-plus hour weeks (in addition to all their homemaker duties,) their kids should be raised by surrogates, and their husbands should get about half as much inflation-adjusted pay as before, because what greater glory is there than to sell, staple, and clean things in offices, stores, and institutions??
All that they have given up has only gone to raise the productivity bar worldwide, creating false growth by using up resources that do not belong in the till, but still, we have not advanced an inch toward destroying the need for new investment–capitalism’s vampirical thirst for growth.
We have not even begun to seek avenues toward harmony with (rather than digestion of) our world. That’s a universal goal, and David Brooks nationalistic cheerleading works directly counter to it.