by Joyce Marcel
August 12, 2010
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9, 2010 -- Paul Krugman's 'America Grows Dark' , an opinion piece in today's New York Times, is brutally on target. It is a telling column, I think, on how America is shutting down, needlessly, and at disastrous cost.
Krugman cogently notes that as deficit fears peak and we tighten our belts - "the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric" - our vision grows increasingly narrow. Meanwhile, the noted economist adds, "the federal government, which can sell inflation-protected long-term bonds at an interest rate of only 1.04 percent, isn't cash-strapped at all. It could and should be offering aid to local governments, to protect the future of our infrastructure and our children."
As the Times observes in a separate editorial today, "The latest jobs report leaves no doubt that a slowdown is well under way and the response from Washington has been inadequate at best."
Krugman reminds me of something said by the late historian Tony Judt. In his last work, Ill Fares the Land, Judt writes (as quoted by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times) "Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For 30 years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest … the materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition.
"Much of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth." Judt, best known for his book Postwar: a History of Europe Since 1945 (2005), died last Friday.
It appears that some have noticed only the glitter of materialism during our decline; many fewer have noticed the more prosaic benefits of infrastructure and progress that comes from universal education, from which so much capital is derived.
Krugman adroitly points to the obvious that even many "liberals" have grown blind to, that "a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation's foundations to crumble - literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education - they're choosing the latter."
Thus education falters, lights dim, roads go increasingly unpaved (some are even being turned back to gravel) as our infrastructure crumbles; and, not least, even more jobs are lost - as if all of these reactionary moves were somehow good for society. They are good only for the rich, who would otherwise pay taxes to preserve them.
Krugman, a Nobel laureate for his economic research and writing, was among the first to warn years back about our current disastrous and now punctured "housing bubble." Screaming to deaf ears, he has been writing for some months now - along Times columnist Bob Herbert, about painful and tragic unemployment, pointing out the dangers of many needless cutbacks, not least at the state and local level.
Today's column by Krugman is one that every writer and thoughtful citizen should read.
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