NORMALIZING DEVIANCE

Posted in Rants on July 13th, 2010 by Ed

On Monday, CNN.com posted one of those magazine-generated "100 Best Places to Live in America" lists. This, even in the context of a fluff piece, floored me:

Certainly there is more to being a great place to live than economic conditions, but please note that the alleged 5th best place to live in America has a 7.8% unemployment rate. You know McKinney, TX is doing well because that's a full two percent below the national average. Way to go, McKinney!

It is remarkable how efficiently our economic betters – including the worker ants in the media conglomerates – have normalized the 10% unemployment rate. That is, the 10% "official" (U3) rate. Nevermind the U6 rate currently over 16%, which still probably understates reality. But I digress. Arguing that 7.8% is good because it is less than 10% is like…well, let's do Katrina metaphors two days in a row. It would be like leaving New Orleans flooded rather than draining it and then selling real estate with an argument like, "Our competitors' houses are under 10 feet of water. Ours are only under seven!"

I don't like putting on the Art Bell-esque Official Crazy Guy Hattm very much, but there certainly is a concerted effort being made by the political and economic elite of the U.S. and western Europe to take advantage of the current conditions to do what they have been trying to do since the Great Depression. Lower the standard of living for the little people. Make the labor force more compliant, riddled with fear bordering on desperation, and with (even) less bargaining power. And above all else, dismantle what remains of the social safety net.

As our Bi-Partisan Pud Pulling Deficit Reduction Committee nears the end of several months of wasting time and money before earnestly telling us we need to cut Social Security and Medicare – what an unexpected outcome! – the Senate refuses to extend additional "funemployment" benefits to Americans out of work. It's like the anti-New Dealers of the 1930s are finally getting to see all of their wet dreams come true. More unemployment! Lower taxes! (Wait, I forgot – tax cuts create jobs! Except when they don't!) No more handouts! Deregulation! Huzzah! Let's all go over to Henry Clay Frick's house and beat servants to death for sport!

I knew we had it in us as a society to wearily accept 10% as the new benchmark for unemployment. After all, it's not like we can do anything about it, right?!? I have to admit that I am a little surprised how quickly the transition took place, though. The collapse of our economy is not yet 24 months old and already we're back to tax cuts being the answer, regulation being the problem, and the unemployed being Welfare Queens. We knew we would get back to this rhetoric eventually, but logically it would happen after the recovery. You know, wait for the crisis to pass before reinstating the conditions that created it. I guess I am an optimist at heart, because I didn't think the top 10% were brazen enough to double down on this rhetoric as we continue sinking. Looks like that was naive of me.