“The official unemployment hides the number of people who have given up looking for work. The increase in manufacturing has mostly been a jobless one.”
A recent New York Times article “A Tale of Two Continents: The US Chose a Better Path to Recovery” trumpets the idea that “there can be little doubt that the American government handled the problems of the last year far better than did its European counterparts.” The scope of the article extends far beyond 2011, it seeks to defend nearly all aspects of the US state-directed bailout of the private sector in the post-2008 period. To do so, the areas of consideration are restricted to the three favorites of capitalist-inspired economists – the official unemployment rate, manufacturing production and stock prices.
The grim reality for most of us – the group the Occupy movement refers to as the 99% – is that we don’t live our lives inside these numbers. The official unemployment hides the number of people who have given up looking for work. The increase in manufacturing has mostly been a jobless one. And the rise in stock prices is a primary concern only for 1%’ers and those being chained to them by retirement funds.
In reality, the reality most of us live in, conditions have gotten substantially worse since 2008. Food insecurity has reached all-time highs. In 2010, 14.5% of US households were food insecure, in other words, members of the household were not sure where their next meal would come from. This number includes 16 million children and is the highest recorded since the Department of Agriculture began tracking hunger trends.
Public funds handed over to private enterprises through the Bailout programs have not furthered the hiring of many more workers. A recent Wall Street Journal article indicated that businesses have made heavy investment on capital – especially machines and software – and have gone light on hiring. Since 2009 spending on infrastructure has increased by 31% while hiring has increased by only 1.4%. This trend was furthered by 100% write-off the US government offered on machine investments as part of a tax-break program.
The deeper social effects of this “recovery from above” are hard to fully measure – they go beyond a simple statistical analysis of the stock prices of the top 500 companies in the US. For instance, mental illness is clearly on the rise. Today in America, 1 in 5 people in the United States experience some form of mental illness. A survey of a smaller sample of those affected by mental illness reported that an alarming 43% did not receive mental health care because of the cost of that care. This has resulted nearly 1 million suicide attempts in 2010 alone. This number includes an estimated 10,000 calls a month to the Veteran’s Administration suicide hotline.
Although the causes of mental illness are quite complex – divided between physiological and environmental factors – the degraded conditions and anxiety producing uncertainty inherent in life under capitalism strip away the nurturing sense of community essential to mental health.
The next time the New York Times or any other establishment newspaper throws the economic numbers of the 1% at you do something radical – put them into a broader context that better captures the way regular people experience them. This is not to say that European style capitalism is better than American capitalism. Or that the economic decisions of EU politicians and bankers were any smarter or more foolish than those of Obama and the banksters in the US. What I mean to argue, is that this system cannot and will not satisfy the human needs of the vast majority of people – those of us in 99%. We need a new way of living that places the full development of humanity at the center of decisions about things like the economy, war, healthcare and housing. There can be “little doubt” that neither the current European or American governments are well equipped to handle such a task.</>
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com.