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The Dubya Depression

The stock market crash of 1929 was the culmination of the Roaring ’20s, where the “rugged individualism” of Herbert Hoover prevailed. This is why the Great Depression is often called the Hoover Depression. When the levees broke after Katrina roared into the saucer of New Orleans, the poor subsisting in the saucer’s depression drowned, while the rich living on the high ground of the French Quarter were not affected too much. The physical New Orleans depression represents the economic depression of the poor all over the country today. I call it the Dubya Depression.

Just like today, conservatives were in charge of our federal government in the Roaring '20s. Just like today, the conservatives boosted Big Business and denigrated labor. Just like today conservatives believed in laissez faire, trickle down and that people should take care of themselves. Business went wild.

However, there is a tremendous difference between the Hoover Depression and the Dubya Depression. During the Great Depression tycoons jumped out of skyscrapers to their death. During the Dubya Depression only the poor were drowned by the 20 feet of Katrina floodwaters. Many poor are drowning in other states out of sight of any natural catastrophe.

Yes, the Great Depression was an equal-opportunity depression: it affected both rich and poor. The Dubya Depression is a discriminating depression: it affects the poor while it benefits the rich.

I am not an economist. Maybe the Dubya Depression will eventually affect the rich. But as of today, it's a depression made to order for the poor.

How did we get to this point? FDR's liberalism lasted up to about the '60s, and then there was a conservative backlash. In '64, Barry Goldwater began the great conservative push. After that, almost every president, Democrat and Republican alike, continued the conservative trend. This was especially true of recent presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

The move to the right meant a switch from concern for workers to concern for business, from helping those who can't help themselves to helping the elite, from aiding the poor to glorifying the rich. Here are few ways our government has increasingly hurt people who are not rich:

  • WORKING POOR - It's possible for a man to work hard at a full time job and not make enough money to support his family. We're not talking about welfare here. A working person deserves to make a minimum wage that keeps him out of poverty. Conservatives fight the minimum wage each time it comes up

  • UNION BUSTING - The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had been a means to help labor form unions so workers may help themselves. But the NLRB has been degraded to the point of uselessness. Reagan killed the air controllers union. Dubya did not agree to forming the Homeland Security Department until he was assured there would be no unions in this department

  • DEREGULATION - Deregulation: Whatever business wants business gets. As a result business has produced frauds and scams. Deregulation has led to the Enron, Tyco, WorldCom and lots of other scandals that made lots of Middle Class workers poor

  • HEALTH CARE ATTACKS - You saw what Big Business did to Bill Clinton's health care plan. There was no discussion. Only attacks, such as the "Harry and Louise" campaign. Dubya talks about health savings accounts. If a person does not make enough to save anything, how can he establish a health savings account?
Dubya has taken conservatism to an extreme. Rugged individualism has morphed into rich boosting. Tax cuts is his middle name. In addition to tax cuts for the rich and for the heirs of the rich, he and the current Congress offered huge tax breaks and subsidies to many huge businesses. Also, they modified the bankruptcy law to make it harder for those economically in the dumps to climb back to normal, all in order to help credit-card companies.

Even now, after Katrina, Bush is offering tax cuts to refineries and gutting the Davis-Bacon act so that his rich cronies would not have to pay the prevailing wage. He has offered government land to build ghettos of the rescued poor. He has also offered government land to refinery companies. Do you think these companies will build a pollution free environment for the nearby ghettos?

From the point of view of conservatives, boosting business causes a trickling down of benefits to the poor. The trickle-down theory has been discredited before. But the Katrina Hurricane destroys the theory entirely. As Beth Shulman says, it produces a depression for the poor:

"New Orleans is a microcosm of America. One out of every four jobs nationwide, or more than 35 million, pays poverty wages and provides few benefits. Yet these jobs are some of the fastest-growing occupations in our economy: home health care workers, janitors, child care providers, security guards, hotel workers, food service employees. Contrary to popular belief, the people holding these jobs are not college students on study break but mostly adults, working adults like the rest of us, trying to take care of their families."

The saucer of New Orleans is also a microcosm of the economic saucer of America. Bush, more than any other president, has dug the depression deeper for the poor and hoisted the raised ground higher for the rich, so that the saucer is more like a bowl. The poor on the bottom of the bowl are suffering intensely from the Dubya Depression. The rich live as they did in the Roaring '20s.

Posted by Paul Siegel at September 27, 2005 5:10 PM