Depression

I feel kinda depressed today. I think the Depression is getting to me.

A very large number of my friends and former colleagues are out of work or grossly under employed. Those with jobs have seen their earnings severely scaled back. Those lucky enough to land a job face employers who are offering lower wages while expecting longer hours and more responsibility (often wearing two or more hats).

I am so not liking where this highway is taking us.

There are days I wish my grandparents were still alive. Their first hand knowledge of the Great Depression is sorely missed. But alas, times are different and I'm not so sure their experiences would be of much help. Back then, America still made things. Not everything came from China. There were local farms, local merchants, local services, local mills, you get the idea. There was a sense of community. We don't have that today. Which is probably why we don't seem to care very much about each other.

Maybe it's always been this way.

Way back when, in my high school social studies class to be specific, the history book had a chapter on the Great Depression. The lead up to the Depression seemed pretty clear - the growth of mergers and acquisitions that resulted in anti-competitive monopolies, a flood of money onto the stock market by ordinary workers fueled by speculation, the availability of cheap credit for housing and farms, a construction boom, both  - again fueled by speculation.

And like all booms, eventually it went bust in a giant flame out that took everyone and everything with it. Except the tycoons at the very top who - for unknown reasons - were idolized by the general populace through the mass media gossip pages owned by those very same tycoons.

It works every time. Eyes meet the wool hiding the wolf. 

As the most recent housing boom was under way, I just watched in disbelief as folks I knew bought way more house than they could afford. People with aboslutely no experience in real estate were buying up rental properties with fantasies of kicking back and just watching the money roll in. The general attitude seemed to be the party would never end, their wages would always go up, and that housing never went down.

I can understand forgetting the 1920's and 1930's but why so many so easily forgot the more recent 1970's housing crash remained a mystery to me. You'd think the massive shut down of defense industries in southern California during the formative years of my peers might have left a mark on their psyche - making them wary of the sharp turns life feels compelled to throw at us. (I'm here to tell you it did not.)

Fast forward.

"Surprise," best said with a French accent preceded by, "quelle."

We need jobs.

In January 1933, 15 million people were unemployed in the United States. [1] In August 2010, 25 million people are unemployed in the United States. [2] Yeah, the population has grown considerably since the 1930's but you'd think someone other than Princeton economist Paul Krugman might notice that unemployment is way too high.

The only way forward that I can see for job creation is a massive stimulus program on par with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930's. Such a program needs to focus on a wide range of projects - not just federal transit - as announced today by President Obama. (President Obama to Announce Plan to Renew and Expand America’s Roads, Railways and Runways White House, Press Release, September 6, 2010)

But alas. Such a program as that which President Obama proposes will largely benefit a handful of multi-national defense contractors whose names you already know from the Iraq War (here's a hint: Bechtel, Parsons, Halliburton…).

I hope you weren't expecting something different from Washington DC. With the draw down of personnel for the Wars of Iraq and likely-soon-to-be Afghanistan, the revenue to defense contractors still needs to be maintained.

Like I said at the beginning, this Depression is getting to me.

Additional Reading

The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 by Amy Belasco, Congressional Research Service, July 16, 2010 - see charts on pps 3 & 10 

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Bechtel - civil infrastructure: rail systems, roads, bridges, aviation facilities, and ports.

Parsons - aviation, bridge and tunnel, rail and transit systems, road and highway

Former Halliburton subsidiary, KBR - aviation and transportation

Perini, now Tutor Perini - highways, bridges and mass transit systems

Washington Group International now owned by URS Corporation - air transportation, surface transportation, rail & mass transit, facilities, ports & maritime

Same old, same old.

but it still ends up providing jobs. We are beholden to one of the defense contractors for our living (hubby's job) and for the last six months we haven't known if he will have a job from one week to the next.

For profit entities scoop off profits. Even a cost plus contract takes about 7%. That's one $70 K job per million. A conservative estimate, $50 billion to private companies costs about 700 jobs that otherwise could have gone to public workers.

of the costs. I think a WPA-sort of program is the ideal, but I'm afraid that Aaron is right about what the thieves have engineered for our collective future.

It's way past overdue time to rewrite the Constitution so that any interpretation of such vast corporate entitlement to flesh and blood rights can be excluded from the realm of the possible.

And the one percent need to have our wealth re-extracted from their hides.

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"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

Problem is, the only people who have paid any attention to history are those on the right who don't want to repeat their "mistakes"--the ones that allowed Roosevelt to go ahead with programs like the WPA. Today, they are making sure we can't do something similar again--though what Roosevelt did in the 30s helped set the stage for the great postwar boom of the American economy.