So, the much promoted stimulus plan from the Obama administration has been passed. And despite all the rhetoric around the new administration’s desire for this to be a bipartisan plan, the Senate and the House pretty much voted along party lines.
One thing I noticed during the weeks that led up to the vote on the stimulus plan was the lack of information in the news coverage about what the $787 billion was going to be used for. There was plenty of commentary about the battle between Democrats and Republicans, but little information on where the stimulus money would go and how that would benefit the public.
Now, in the news coverage there was some vague discussion about how the stimulus plan would help the economy, but we shouldn’t confuse that with the general public. One of the neglected truths about the economic system we live with is that even when the “economy” is doing well, lots of people are suffering. In fact, economists will quite often tell us that have 5 or 6% unemployment is a good thing. Economic indicators are driven more by stock prices and consumer spending. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not interested in whether or not people are making a livable income or whether or not we are polluting the planet.
Another myth about the economy that was promoted during the stimulus debate is the idea of job creation. Much of the news coverage promoted the Obama administration’s claim that the stimulus plan will create 4 million new jobs. However, most reporters never really asked what kind of jobs would be created, what they will pay and how that will benefit the public. This is in part due to the fact that we are all just suppose to be happy if a politician says that what he or she will do is create jobs…end of story. The reality is that a great deal of new job creation is in the service sector, which means people earn poverty level wages, often with no benefits. Another way that the job numbers can mislead the public is by saying that the one-day you worked during the whole month through a temp. agency counts as being employed. Is this what they mean by a “market distortion?”
So where will all of the $787 billion included in the stimulus go? There is some money that will go for public education, some for extending unemployment benefits, road and bridge repairs, and health care for the poor. While this money may provide some relief to people who are hurting, it is important to keep in mind that these funds are essentially subsidies for big business. Some uninsured people will get access to some health benefits, but the money goes to the HMOs. This is what lobbyists were doing weeks before the president signed the new stimulus plan, they were making sure that most of the money would come back to the companies they represent. This is particularly the case for the banks and other Wall Street entities that not only lobbied Congress heavily; they put plenty of money into the coffers of candidates before the November election.
So let’s look at this like we were talking to a 4th grader, which is what local TV broadcasters claim is the age level they produce their stories for. Bankers and other financial institutions took lots of money from the public in the form of investments, mortgage loans, or savings. The banks and their friends on Wall Street use the money for their own gains and along the way things bottom out. Lots of working people get screwed and in the process the government gives them billions of dollars to bail them out last fall. Now these same banks and their buddies have come back to ask for more of the taxpayers’ money and while the new administration might be wagging their finger at them, they still give them more money. Not only are they giving them more money, they have continued to provide significant tax breaks to the same people who have been ripping us off for years. Add to that the fact that these same banking executives are giving themselves raises and throwing parties like there is no tomorrow. What an amazing country we live in.
OK, back to The Grand Rapids Press. So, besides not providing the public with good information during the stimulus debate in Congress, what else has the local news done for us? Well, they still provide for us good stock tips and shopping opportunities. You still get to go to any number of shopping expos at the DeVos Place and get your picture taken with a local radio or TV personality after you get introduced to the latest products from home remodeling, to cars and boats. What I want to know is who can buy this stuff? No one I know is thinking “I gotta get me a good deal on 30 foot boat.”
On Sunday, February 15, The Press out did themselves in audacity by running as their featured front page story an article about “financial guru” Dave Ramsey. The article was titled, “Do I save, or do I spend?” The focus of the story (and this is what us little people are supposed to think about during the financial crisis) was what individuals can do to better manage their money. The article even featured a local couple that have taken Dave’s advice and made it work for them. The best part about the story was that Ramsey was speaking at the Van Andel Arena on February 19, so the story was free advertising for this snake oil salesman. Tickets to see the financial guru ranged from $38 to $202. For that kind of money I would think he would take you out to dinner before he f**ked you. I know, I know, Dave Ramsey provides biblically based financial advice and can be heard on WOOD radio, his columns are in The Grand Rapids Press and in a local Christian newspaper, so what is my problem? Not only does Ramsey promote the current economic model, stock investments and all, he makes a shit ton of money giving out this information.
To add insult to injury, The Grand Rapids Press also ran a story that accompanied the piece on Dave Ramsey with the headline, “How to help end the crisis.” The article begins by saying, “It’s your fault.” Basically, the article said that the current economic crisis is because of our spending. “Your free-spending ways helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” The bankers and Wall Street fat cats are not to blame, you are! However, the article did have a silver lining in the form of tips for us consumers. With these tips, we will be able to avoid being in a financial crisis. Before you read these, you might want to sit down. First, “parents of young children can join Costco and make up the fee with just a few months of diaper purchases.” Second, we are told to inflate our tires for better fuel efficiency. Third, we should stop buying bottled water and just buy a water filter. However, my favorite was, “People who do lots of laser printing can purchase a printer that uses only a cent or two of ink per page.”
So, what are we to do? Well there are no easy answers, but I think we might be able to learn something from people around the world. In early February, writer Joshua Holland wrote an interesting piece on AlterNet titled, “The Whole World is Rioting as the Economic Crisis Worsens – Why Aren’t We?” That, I think is an important question. If one looks at what people have been doing in places like Greece, Mexico, France, Iceland, and Russia, you will find that people are taking matters into their own hands and they are not blaming the problem on individual consumers. Check out Naomi Klein’s website, where she has lots of information and video of the global uprising against the economic crash.
I don’t know the answer to why we are not rioting in the US, even though we have every reason to be. So, I will leave us all with that challenge. Let’s answer this question together:
“Why are we not rioting in the US because of the economy?”
If you have any answers let me know and then lets do something about it.
Jeff Smith would love to be on the streets with you and not buying diapers at Costco. jsmith AT mediamouse.org