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“Unemployment Truthers See New Conspiracy”: There’s Just No Way That Reality Is Real

Two years ago this week, the nation’s unemployment dipped below 8% for the first time since the start of the Great Recession. Almost immediately, Republicans were outraged – the good news couldn’t be real, they said, but rather must be the result of an elaborate conspiracy.

Friday we learned that the nation’s jobless rate has dipped even lower, dropping below 6% for the first time in over six years. Rush Limbaugh told his audience that the 2012 data was “entirely made up” and “artificially manufactured,” and the 2014 data is worse.

“[T]his today is just as illegitimate. This 5.9% number is even more illegitimate than the 7.9% number. There’s no way that this country has an economy producing jobs with an unemployment rate of 5.9%. It just isn’t happening…. [I]t isn’t real.”

Over the course of two years, from Jack Welch to Rush Limbaugh, we just haven’t seen much in the way of progress on the scourge of denialism among President Obama’s critics.

Indeed, this has come up quite a few times. Whenever the economy improves, a few too many on the right don’t celebrate; they reflexively deny the evidence and point to a conspiracy that exists only in their imaginations.

I’m reminded of this piece from Alex Seitz-Wald, now an msnbc colleague, written when Fox News first began pushing these conspiracy theories in earnest: “If it weren’t improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold a strong belief about something, invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers.”

If nothing else, Limbaugh’s assessment was helpful in its candor: in his mind, there’s just “no way” that reality is real. It can’t be real, therefore, it’s not real, evidence be damned.

I can appreciate where the denial comes from. Republicans just know that last year’s tax increases on the wealthy are slowing the economy; they just know that “Obamacare” is destroying the job market; they just know federal regulations are strangling economic vitality.

And when reality presents proof that they’re mistaken, well, reality must be wrong, too. “Those Chicago guys” must be at it again.

The right was so certain the Affordable Care Act would fail that it literally couldn’t believe the enrollment numbers. The right was equally certain that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a landslide victory, so it seemed obvious to them that pollsters conspired to ensure that survey results were “skewed.”

Climate data is politically inconvenient, so it must be rejected. The job numbers are politically inconvenient, so they must be ignored, too.

Such systemic hostility towards empiricism just isn’t healthy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Jobs, Unemployment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Mutilated Economy”: Anyone Who Talks About How We’re Borrowing From Our Children Just Hasn’t Done The Math

Five years and eleven months have now passed since the U.S. economy entered recession. Officially, that recession ended in the middle of 2009, but nobody would argue that we’ve had anything like a full recovery. Official unemployment remains high, and it would be much higher if so many people hadn’t dropped out of the labor force. Long-term unemployment — the number of people who have been out of work for six months or more — is four times what it was before the recession.

These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies — homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started. And many people have pleaded all along for policies that put job creation front and center. Their pleas have, however, been drowned out by the voices of conventional prudence. We can’t spend more money on jobs, say these voices, because that would mean more debt. We can’t even hire unemployed workers and put idle savings to work building roads, tunnels, schools. Never mind the short run, we have to think about the future!

The bitter irony, then, is that it turns out that by failing to address unemployment, we have, in fact, been sacrificing the future, too. What passes these days for sound policy is in fact a form of economic self-mutilation, which will cripple America for many years to come. Or so say researchers from the Federal Reserve, and I’m sorry to say that I believe them.

I’m actually writing this from the big research conference held each year by the International Monetary Fund. The theme of this year’s shindig is the causes and consequences of economic crises, and the presentations range in subject from the good (Latin America’s surprising stability in recent years) to the bad (the ongoing crisis in Europe). It’s pretty clear, however, that the blockbuster paper of the conference will be one that focuses on the truly ugly: the evidence that by tolerating high unemployment we have inflicted huge damage on our long-run prospects.

How so? According to the paper (with the unassuming title “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”), our seemingly endless slump has done long-term damage through multiple channels. The long-term unemployed eventually come to be seen as unemployable; business investment lags thanks to weak sales; new businesses don’t get started; and existing businesses skimp on research and development.

What’s more, the authors — one of whom is the Federal Reserve Board’s director of research and statistics, so we’re not talking about obscure academics — put a number to these effects, and it’s terrifying. They suggest that economic weakness has already reduced America’s economic potential by around 7 percent, which means that it makes us poorer to the tune of more than $1 trillion a year. And we’re not talking about just one year’s losses, we’re talking about long-term damage: $1 trillion a year for multiple years.

That estimate is the end product of some complex data-crunching, and you can quibble with the details. Hey, maybe we’re only losing $800 billion a year. But the evidence is overwhelming that by failing to respond effectively to mass unemployment — by not even making unemployment a major policy priority — we’ve done ourselves immense long-term damage.

And it is, as I said, a bitter irony, because one main reason we’ve done so little about unemployment is the preaching of deficit scolds, who have wrapped themselves in the mantle of long-run responsibility — which they have managed to get identified in the public mind almost entirely with holding down government debt.

This never made sense even in its own terms. As some of us have tried to explain, debt, while it can pose problems, doesn’t make the nation poorer, because it’s money we owe to ourselves. Anyone who talks about how we’re borrowing from our children just hasn’t done the math.

True, debt can indirectly make us poorer if deficits drive up interest rates and thereby discourage productive investment. But that hasn’t been happening. Instead, investment is low because of the economy’s weakness. And one of the main things keeping the economy weak is the depressing effect of cutbacks in public spending — especially, by the way, cuts in public investment — all justified in the name of protecting the future from the wildly exaggerated threat of excessive debt.

Is there any chance of reversing this damage? The Fed researchers are pessimistic, and, once again, I fear that they’re probably right. America will probably spend decades paying for the mistaken priorities of the past few years.

It’s really a terrible story: a tale of self-inflicted harm, made all the worse because it was done in the name of responsibility. And the damage continues as we speak.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 7, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Unemployment | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Mean Team Piles On The Jobless”: Our Nation’s Corporate And Political Elites Have Developed An Immunity To Shame

“Come on, team, let’s get mean!”

This is not the chant of rabid football fans, egging on their favorite team to crush the opponents. Rather, it’s the raucous war cry of far-out right-wing ideologues all across the country who’re pumping up Team GOP to pound the bejeezus out of America’s millions of unemployed workers. Far from a game, this is real, and it’s a moral abomination.

I’ve been unemployed before, and I can tell you it’s a misery — all the more so today, when there are far more people out of work than there are job openings. This leaves millions of our fellow Americans mired in the debilitating misery of long-term unemployment.

But that’s not miserable enough for a feral breed of Ayn Randian political zealots who are lobbying Republican governors, legislators and congress-critters to punish the jobless for … well, for their joblessness. In this perverse universe, the conventional wisdom asserts that unemployment benefits and other poverty-prevention programs are sapping our nation’s vitality by allowing “moochers” to live the Life of Reilly and avoid work.

The GOP’s budget demigod in the U.S. House, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), expressed this dogma in a fanciful homily deriding America’s safety net as “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” This from a guy whose family’s wealth was gained from government contacts and who has spent practically all of his adult life in the sweet-swaying hammock of congressional privilege, presently drawing $174,000 a year from Old Uncle Sugar.

As ridiculous and just plain mean as this attitude is, it plays well in the insanity that now defines “the debate” in Republican primary elections. So, state after state (as well as Congress) is succumbing to this pound-the-poor, right-wing screed by frenetically slashing unemployment benefits.

Behind this faux-philosophical push are the smiling barons of corporate America. Without jobless payments, you see, desperate millions will be forced to whatever low-wage, no-benefit, dead-end jobs the barons design.

What’s at work here is a profoundly awful ethical phenomenon that has seeped into the top strata of American society: Our nation’s corporate and political elites have developed an immunity to shame.

It has become morally acceptable in those lofty circles to enrich themselves while turning their backs on the rest of us. Even more damning, they feel free to slash America’s already tattered safety net, leaving more holes than net for the workaday majority of Americans who’ve been knocked down by an ongoing economic disaster created by these very elites.

For a look at how shameful these privileged powers have become, turn to North Carolina. Until recently, this Southern state maintained a fairly moderate government with a populist streak, taking pride in its educational system and other public efforts to maintain a middle class. No more. A shame-resistant political leadership has recently taken hold, consisting of corporate-funded Tea Party extremists who loathe the very idea of a safety net.

The new bunch has been gutting everything from public schools to health care, and now they’ve turned on hard-hit citizens who’re out of work. In a state with the fifth highest jobless rate in the country, and with no recovery in sight, the right-wing governor and legislature recently whacked weekly unemployment benefits by a third, leaving struggling North Carolinians with a meager $350 a week to try to make ends meet, while simultaneously eliminating millions of consumer dollars that those families would otherwise be putting into the state’s economy. Then, just to give the jobless another kick, the petty politicians cut the number of weeks people can receive unemployment aid.

This official stinginess automatically disqualified the state from getting $700 million a year for long-term jobless payments from the federal government. Yet Gov. Pat McCrory issued a cockamamie, Kafkaesque claim that the gut-job ensures that “our citizens’ unemployment safety net is secure,” while providing “an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again.”

Yeah, we’ll all hold our breath until those “job creators” get going. Meanwhile, the GOP wrecking crew doled out a fat tax break for the corporate elites — for doing nothing. Take from the poor, give to the rich: backward Robin Hood. If ignorance is bliss, McCrory must be ecstatic.

Meanwhile, his shameless immorality has unleashed a growing storm of weekly demonstrations known as “Moral Mondays.” For information about this remarkable citizens’ uprising, link to the North Carolina Justice Center: www.ncjustice.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, July 10, 2013

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Unemployment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Forgotten Millions”: Spending More To Create Jobs Now Would Actually Improve Our Long-Run Fiscal Position

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. It is, however, still very much experiencing a job crisis.

It’s easy to get confused about the fiscal thing, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Indeed, one recent poll suggests that a large plurality of the public believes that the budget deficit will go up if we go off that cliff.

In fact, of course, it’s just the opposite: The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail as a bargaining strategy, and the president seems ready to call their bluff.

Moreover, despite years of warnings from the usual suspects about the dangers of deficits and debt, our government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates — interest rates on inflation-protected U.S. bonds are actually negative, so investors are paying our government to make use of their money. And don’t tell me that markets may suddenly turn on us. Remember, the U.S. government can’t run out of cash (it prints the stuff), so the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.

Yet there is a whole industry built around the promotion of deficit panic. Lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now now now — except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused.

Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year.

When you see numbers like those, bear in mind that we’re looking at millions of human tragedies: at individuals and families whose lives are falling apart because they can’t find work, at savings consumed, homes lost and dreams destroyed. And the longer this goes on, the bigger the tragedy.

There are also huge dollars-and-cents costs to our unmet jobs crisis. When willing workers endure forced idleness society as a whole suffers from the waste of their efforts and talents. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that what we are actually producing falls short of what we could and should be producing by around 6 percent of G.D.P., or $900 billion a year.

Worse yet, there are good reasons to believe that high unemployment is undermining our future growth as well, as the long-term unemployed come to be considered unemployable, as investment falters in the face of inadequate sales.

So what can be done? The panic over the fiscal cliff has been revelatory. It shows that even the deficit scolds are closet Keynesians. That is, they believe that right now spending cuts and tax hikes would destroy jobs; it’s impossible to make that claim while denying that temporary spending increases and tax cuts would create jobs. Yes, our still-depressed economy needs more fiscal stimulus.

And, to his credit, President Obama did include a modest amount of stimulus in his initial budget offer; the White House, at least, hasn’t completely forgotten about the unemployed. Unfortunately, almost nobody expects those stimulus plans to be included in whatever deal is eventually reached.

So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.

No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions.

So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 6, 2012

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Unemployment | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Illegal Immigrants Not To Blame For Unemployment

Memo to Alabama: George W. Bush was right.

The former president, making a too-late push for what  could have been a game-changing, bipartisan immigration reform law, noted that  immigrants now here illegally make an important contribution to the economy.  They do the jobs Americans can’t or won’t do.

Opponents disagreed, arguing that the undocumented  workers were  stealing jobs that should go to Americans—jobs like picking  fruit for  low wages in the hot sun. That was a questionable claim when the   economy was better, but as Alabama farmers are now learning, Bush’s  statement  is correct even now, when Americans are working for far less  pay in jobs for  which they are way over-qualified, just to have a job.

In June Alabama passed a draconian immigration law—most  of which is  still in place, even while courts decide its constitutionality—that has  driven many immigrants from the state. The result has not been a wave   of grateful unemployed teachers and skilled workers, eager to be  underpaid for  difficult manual labor. Instead, at the San  Francisco Chronicle reports:

The agriculture industry suffered the most  immediate impact. Farmers  said they will have to downsize or let crops die in  the fields. As the  season’s harvest winds down, many are worried about next  year.

In south Georgia, Connie Horner has heard just about  every reason  unemployed Americans don’t want to work on her blueberry farm.  It’s  hot, the hours are long, the pay isn’t enough, and it’s just plain hard.

“You can’t find legal workers,” Horner said.  “Basically, they last a day or two, literally.”

There are a number of lessons here. One is that there are  surely  elected officials and people in the business community who are using the   recession to roll back all kinds of hard-fought rights for workers,  cutting  pay, eliminating job security, and drastically reducing or  zeroing out  benefits. Another is that while Americans don’t want to do  farm work for low  wages, they also don’t want to pay higher prices for  food harvested by workers  paid a decent salary. That’s not an argument  for abusing undocumented workers,  but it’s also not an argument for  scaring foreigners out of the state so locals  can have their bad jobs.

What’s remarkable is that some of the same people who  scream about  illegal immigrants taking American jobs here in the United States  are  quieter when it comes to foreigners abroad taking what could be American   jobs here. Outsourcing of manufacturing jobs increases corporate  profits, but  adds to the unemployment rate domestically. Those are jobs  American will do. If  that anti-immigrant worker crowd is genuinely  concerned about retaining U.S.  jobs, they should focus on bringing back  the outsourced jobs—not evacuating  the foreign workers.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 24, 2011

October 25, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Corporations, Economic Recovery, GOP, Government, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Republicans, Right Wing, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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