Prominent economists have been expounding for months on the dire consequences of this country’s unemployment crisis. As recently as this May, Dean Baker and Ken Hassett exhorted us to pay vigilant attention. In an op-ed headlined “The Human Disaster,” they described unemployment as “nothing short of a national emergency.”
Still, the election discussion plods on with barely a nod to the criminal unemployment disaster.
For bracing relief, check out the latest from economist Robert Pollin, professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Pollin’s latest book, Back To Full Employment, lays out a roadmap to recovery that wouldn’t take a miracle. It wouldn’t even require a Democratic sweep this November; merely action by the Fed and a progressive movement worth its salt.
When world leader companies like Caterpillar Inc. are putting the squeeze on their workers despite accruing record-setting profits; when banks are hoarding $1.6 trillion, money is cheap and government borrowing costs are at their lowest in history, there’s simply no excusing existing levels of poverty, and the poverty-level wages currently prevailing in the not-so-United States.
There’s no excuse for 6 million people to be living on food stamps alone or for 103 million to be not getting by on wages that barely lift them above poverty (see Peter Edelman on this, if you don’t believe it). There’s no excuse, and there’s no point simply beating up on trade unions.
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The world’s best president could roll back every last anti-organizing law and set organizers free to sign up every last employed American, and still the standing pool of desperate unemployed would drain worker power away. To expect otherwise is to wait for Batman.
“it’s beyond the Democrats. It’s beyond Barack Obama,” says Pollin in this interview.
Economists know how to maintain decently full employment. Coming out of the Great Depression, says Pollin, we had some basic tools. “To run an economy at a level of fundamental decency, you try to achieve full employment.” Neoliberalism, under Thatcher and Reagan, he says, “tossed it all away.”
The last time the US saw relatively full employment wasn’t in ancient history. It was at the end of the 1990s. We can do it. Pollin lays out how. What we need is a progressive movement with full employment at the spear-tip of its agenda.
Alexander Cockburn and Pollin discussed full employment in the Nation in 1987. It’s chilling how little has changed. You can read that article here [pdf]. A full transcript of my conversation with Pollin will appear in the next print edition of CounterPunch.