Economic Futures By Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves

Economic Futures

By Shea Howell

September 13, 2011

Last week President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to press for the adoption of the American Jobs Act. He called for a combination of tax cuts and targeted spending designed to intervene in the continuing deterioration of our economy. He advocated incentives to businesses to hire veterans and people who have been out of work longer than 6 months. He proposed spending on infrastructure, including rebuilding roads and bridges, repairing schools and hiring teachers, police officers and fire fighters. He argued the proposed $447 billion package could be paid for without adding to the deficit.

Many people who support President Obama greeted the speech with joy and relief. Paul Krugman of the New York Times who was bitterly disappointed in the last stimulus effort said:

“First things first: I was favorably surprised by the new Obama jobs plan, which is significantly bolder and better than I expected. It’s not nearly as bold as the plan I’d want in an ideal world. But if it actually became law, it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment.”

Another commentator noted that this was “an enlivened President Obama…impassioned, indignant, non-professorial.” Others still called the speech “politically dexterous” and were glad it expressed “a fairly unquiet anger at Washington’s—meaning Congress’—failure to act.”

The Republican leadership, perhaps attentive to the polls that show their approval rating is lower than the President’s, greeted the speech with restraint.

By the beginning of the week the opposition had rallied. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor slammed the recommendations on closing loop holes for oil and gas companies and tax breaks for the most wealthy. He calling these a “massive tax increase.” Speaker John Boehner claimed the plan lacked “bipartisan spirit” and vowed to break it into several parts.

I welcomed the speech. We are facing a crisis unlike any since the Great Depression. Here in Michigan we are on the brink of a catastrophe. As a state we account for nearly half of all jobs lost in the country as a whole. Now we have a republican governor and legislature who are tearing apart the basic supports for the most vulnerable among us. I applauded when the President said: “What we can’t do — what I will not do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. “

But more important than the fate of this specific proposal is the long term concern that

President Obama raised. He said:

“Now, the American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away. But we can’t stop there…We have to look beyond the immediate crisis and start building an economy that lasts into the future … We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth.”

This is the question we all need to urgently address: how do we create an economy that sustains our people, our communities and our planet? What do we think that future should be?