When Barack Obama took office it seemed to some of us that his first job was to get the national silverware out of the pawn shop. Or at least maintain the world's confidence that it was possible for us to get out of debt. America is dead broke, the easy credit, phantom "growth" economy has been exposed for what it was. A credit scam. Even Hillary Clinton and Obama's best efforts have not coaxed much more dough out of foreign friends. But at least we again have a few friends abroad.
So now we must jackleg ourselves back into something resembling a productive activity. No matter how you cut it, things will not be as much fun as shopping and speculative "investing" were.
The fiesta is over, the economy as we knew it is dead.
The national money shamans have danced around the carcass of our dead horse economy, chanted the recovery chant and burned fiat currency like Indian sage, enshrouding the carcass in the sacred smoke of burning cash. And indeed, they have managed to prop up the carcass to appear life-like from a distance, if you squint through the smoke just right. But it still stinks here from the inside. Clearly at some point we must find a new horse to ride, and sure as god made little green apples one is broaching the horizon. And it looks exactly like the old horse.
Then too, what else did we expect? His economic team of free market billionaires and financial hotwires includes most of those who helped Bill Clinton sell the theory that Americans didn't need jobs. Actual labor, if you will remember, was for Asian sweatshops and Latin maquiladoras. We, as a nation one third of whose population is functionally illiterate, were going to transmute ourselves into an information and transactional economy. Ain't gonna sweat no mo' no mo' -- just drink wine and sing about Jesus all day.
Along with these economic hotwires came literally hundreds of K Street and Democratic lobbyists. Supposedly, every president is forced to hire these guys because no one else seems to have the connections or knows how to get a bill through Congress. Consequently, the current regime's definition of a recovery is more of the same as ever. A return of the mortgage market and credit to its former level -- the level that blew us out of the water in the first place. Ah, but we're gonna manage it better this time. There is no one-trick pony on earth equal to capitalism.
Somewhere in the smoking wreckage lie the solutions. The solutions we aren't allowed to discuss: adoption of a Wall Street securities speculation tax; repeal of the Taft-Hartley anti-union laws; ending corporate personhood; cutting the bloated vampire bleeding the economy, the military budget; full single payer health care insurance, not some "public option" that is neither fish nor fowl; taxation instead of credits for carbon pollution; reversal of inflammatory U.S. policy in the Middle East (as in, get the hell out, begin kicking the oil addiction and quit backing the spoiled murderous brat that is Israel.
Meanwhile we may all feel free to row ourselves to hell in the same hand basket. Except of course the elites, the top five percent or so among us. But 95 percent is close enough to be called democratic, so what the hell. The trivialized media, having internalized the system's values, will continue to act as rowing captain calling out the strokes. News gathering in America is its own special hell, and reduces its practitioners to banality and elite sycophancy. But Big Money calls the shots.
With luck we will see at least some reverse of the Bush regime's assault on habeas corpus, due process, privacy. Changing such laws doesn't much affect that one percent whose income is equal to the combined bottom 50 percent of Americans.
Beyond that, the big money is constitutionally protected. Our Constitution is first and foremost a property document protecting their money. In actual practice, our constitutional civil liberties, inspiring as they are in concept to people around the world, are mainly side action to make the institutionalization of the owning class more palatable. You can argue that may not have been the intent of the slave owning, rent collecting, upper class founding fathers. But you would be full of shit. We can keep on pretending to be independent, free to keep on living in those houses on which we still owe $300,000. But they own and control the money that comes through our hands. And they plan to keep on owning it and charging us to use it.
Joe Bageant is author of the book, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War (Random House Crown), about working class America. A complete archive of his on-line work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found on his website.