Monday, January 12, 2009

Because I said so!

Interesting yet disturbing trend in the media, maybe it's not new, perhaps I'm just isolated enough out here in Poland to miss these things. I left North America when Fox just showed the Simpsons and football. Seems to be that if you say something loud enough and get a couple of people to repeat it, it becomes true, no matter how preposterous the statement. Better yet, bundle a whole bunch of lies together and throw them out there knowing that the public just doesn't have the patience to untangle them and extract the truth.

The most stunningly false I have heard of late is aimed at disabling president-elect Obama's economic recovery plan even before he takes office. It is that Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program didn't work and in fact worsened the Great Depression. Of course this is nothing but a pre-emptive attack on Obama's economic stimulus package, designed to soften up the opposition. This claim offends on two levels: first, it's a lie, and second, it follows the inept taxing a spending ways of the current Bush administration. Just say it, especially on TV, and it becomes reality for many. Oh look, here's one from "Fox" News:

Of course there is always a grain of truth to the lie. Not all of the New Deal policies were successful. Also, unemployment did rise momentarily when the economy hit another rough patch in 1937 and 1938, but the fact is that the unemployment rate dropped from 23.6% in 1932 to 14.6% in 1940, the largest percentage drop in history (before America entered the war; it would drop to 1.2% by 1944). Still, people can say things like this (jump to about 4:30 if you can't handle watching the whole thing):

"It's in the books!" I love it, and people eat it up, it must be true, he said it's in the books.

Of course it would be funny if it weren't so sad that all this talk falls on the heels of the greatest economic disaster that America (and maybe the world) has ever seen, the eight years of Bush II. Dubya inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion and a deficit of $5.7 trillion, the Congressional Budget office projected a $5.6 trillion surplus between 2002 and 2011; instead Obama will inherit at least a $10.6 trillion deficit and an impossible to exactly measure budget deficit, somewhere in the range of $750 billion. It's all really unknown though as the government's behavior in the last few months has been completely ad hoc, no one knows exactly what is owed anymore. Fanny May/Freddie Mac alone represent a debt of $5.4 trillion that the government has taken on in reality. Even before the latest craziness, the Bush administration successfully pushed through two massive, inequitable rounds of tax cuts and a 59% increase in spending. All this in a growing economy! Now, after round one of the economic 'plan' to pull the nation out of recession, the one where the banks and the rich benefit from $750 billion in expenditures, the neoliberals are preparing the ground to fight any further government spending which might help the rest of the population.

Now that I think about it, this isn't new at all, it's just a continuation of the lies from the last eight years. You can't blame the right I suppose, after all, it has worked for Dubya and his cronies. Based on the results of “uranium from Africa” you can eventually convince the public to go to war. Many people even still believe that Al-Qaeda was in Iraq prior to the occupation. You can open a torture funfair in Guantanamo as long as you keep repeating that "we don't torture". Say we've won a war by repeating "Mission Accomplished". Perfect the art of unsigning by removing yourself from the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol along with becoming the world champion signing statement signer (signing bills into law, but taking out the bits he didn't like). In a climate such as this has it been a surprise to anyone to see the whole house of cards that was the financial system come crashing down? Big government may not always be as efficient as the free market, but it's pretty pathetic to see the attempts of the right to discredit a plan that brought order to the chaos of the depression. The New Deal brought the FDIC, restoring faith in the banking system, the Glass-Steagall Act to regulate bank speculation (the repeal of which was a major contributor to the current crisis), the Federal Securities Act to require full disclosure of stocks being sold along with the creation of the SEC to regulate stocks purchased on margin - is any of this starting to sound familiar? It wasn't all spend, spend, spend either. Austerity measures such as the Economy Act actually saved money to help pay for some of the new programs. Of course there was more, most notably the creation of social security and the end of prohibition.

The parallels between today and 1929 are obvious. While the New Deal was an experiment, the biggest mistake made by FDR was that he didn't go far enough, allowing the economy to slip back into recession in 1937-38, creating the basis of the neoliberal argument that it wasn't the New Deal but WWII that brought about the end of the depression. Economic historian JK Galbraith argued that the US economy “in the twenties had opened its hospitable arms to an exceptional number of promoters, grafters, swindlers, impostors, and frauds. This, in the long history of such activities, was a kind of flood tide of corporate larceny.” It's all happening again and the right would have us stop at giving away money to the banks and the rich, when what America needs is a better New Deal not another World War.


Michal said...

"The great masses of the people, they're more likely to fall for a big lie, that for a small lie."

Now who said that?

Shane said...

Had a feeling it might have been Hitler (though I did have to check to confirm). Wish I'd used the quote to start the article, thanks Michal. So damn true, from Iraq to torture to crisis, the last 8 years (OK, maybe more) has been like living one big lie.