12 May 2003


To The Point points out that, even in public pronouncements, the Bush Administration is not serious about dealing with the unemployment bonanza that accompanied the economic downturn. The Treasury Secretary feels obligated to offer up garbage like "One way to think about it is, suppose the economy is going to recover anyway, (and) there's some probability of that, if we can add a good, well-founded, sound tax bill, you do no harm (and) you improve the efficiency of the economy." This article reiterates the message.

What's to wonder about, in fact, is why anyone really thinks the Bush Administration is going to do anything for the unemployed, besides send W to New Mexico to deliver a meaningless speech. (New Mexico, if you don't know already, is one of the most unemployment-riddled states in the country.) Since they know that they don't care, why hasn't the public figured that out too? The dirty truth is that the real reigning ideology of economic life, today and since 1973, is neoliberalism, and under neoliberalism, the elites have moved to protect the rates of investment profit by appropriating an increased share of the surplus in light of the steadily-slowing growth of the global economy as a whole. And that's it -- if the elites get more, and the pie doesn't get much bigger, the people get less.

Back to the question of why any elite promises to do anything are in fact believed. It might be argued that, since 1973, the elites have been trading in on promises made in the era of populist Keynesianism, between 1948 and 1973, when, thanks to World War II, the global economy was organized on the basis of "growth" -- including employment growth. So one explanation of why the public has been fooled by these promises since '73 is that the American public lives in an economics-free reality, a reality where the everyday discourse of economic life has been made irrelevant to what is really going on. We apply the discourse of the past to a present that has moved on from past policy. We all talk about what we want individually, and so we are caught believing that things will get better for us personally while at the same time we suspect that things will get worse for the majority of other people.

Now that these promises have become empty, we have become captive audiences to Administrations such as the last one and the current one, which trade on meaningless symbolic gestures. What has to happen, of course, is another 1948 or 1973, another sea-change in economic policy, where the old nostrums of neoliberalism are tossed aside in favor of who knows what.


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