Sunday, January 24, 2010

"They still don't get it"

Was just reading Bob Herbert's column of this weekend and thought this excerpt struck a concordant note with Canadian circumstances, which perhaps might be stirring some of the discontent with the Conservatives at the moment. Comparisons between the U.S. and Canada are never perfect, of course, but see the emphasized parts in particular and see if it rings true for our political and economic dynamic as well:
The question for Democrats is whether there is anything that will wake them up to their obligation to extend a powerful hand to ordinary Americans and help them take the government, including the Supreme Court, back from the big banks, the giant corporations and the myriad other predatory interests that put the value of a dollar high above the value of human beings.

The Democrats still hold the presidency and large majorities in both houses of Congress. The idea that they are not spending every waking hour trying to fix the broken economic system and put suffering Americans back to work is beyond pathetic. Deficit reduction is now the mantra in Washington, which means that new large-scale investments in infrastructure and other measures to ease the employment crisis and jump-start the most promising industries of the 21st century are highly unlikely.

What we’ll get instead is rhetoric. It’s cheap, so we can expect a lot of it.

Those at the bottom of the economic heap seem all but doomed in this environment. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston put the matter in stark perspective after analyzing the employment challenges facing young people in Chicago: “Labor market conditions for 16-19 and 20-24-year-olds in the city of Chicago in 2009 are the equivalent of a Great Depression-era, especially for young black men.”

The Republican Party has abandoned any serious approach to the nation’s biggest problems, economic or otherwise. It may be resurgent, but it’s not a serious party. That leaves only the Democrats, a party that once championed working people and the poor, but has long since lost its way.
That note on a preoccupation with deficit reduction taking center stage really seems fitting for the Canadian context. It was the big government message of the week, with "second coming Stock" moving into the limelight. Yet what is the government doing to address job creation? The stimulus has yet to bear fruit in improving employment numbers. The original framing of Economic Action Plan job creation was 265,000 jobs by the end of 2010 in the January 2009 budget, with 2007 measures cited as bolstering the number to the 265,000 job level. The government job creation estimate was narrowed to 220,000 jobs by the end of 2010 in the September 2009 economic update. In the December 2009 economic update, the government didn't make any new projections, referring to the 220,000 September estimate as being "...consistent with recent areas of strength in the economy," such as consumer and business confidence, consumer spending. The actual job creation numbers from the stimulus remain a mystery, however, with no answers from the government. This will be something to watch in the March 4th budget, job creation projections this year in light of the aforementioned already promised numbers.

The most recent Bank of Canada forecast, issued Friday, is of "gloomy" growth and talk is that reducing the 8.5 % unemployment rate is unlikely, despite government rhetoric and the numbers cited in the economic updates. They're good at rhetoric, the Economic Action Plan ads, at untold and unknowable cost, are back on our television screens. But the gap between rhetoric and action? Still seems to be a problem. Youth unemployment in Canada, similar to the stats Herbert cites, is a pressing issue, hitting a 30-year high in 2009. Yet the talk from government is largely deficit reduction.

All this is to say that Herbert's conclusion, "they still don't get it," is one that could fairly be pointed at the Harper government as well. Throw in a three month break from Parliament, it doesn't help the perception.