What if President Barack Obama had simply announced a “Friday Paycheck”? That is, a priority above all else to get money to people who need it this Friday and every Friday thereafter? Call him the Paycheck President. Forget the bailouts, the reimbursement bonuses, the Citibank stockholders, Goldman Sachs profiteering, the swap holders at AIG, or all the people who invested in them? Who are they kidding? They need money more than working people, or the multitudes ripped off in the mortgage scams, or the millions of laid-off private and public sector employees? Of course they don’t. They are the people who took the proceeds from a decade of high productivity and stuck it in their pockets, not yours.
And, by the way, they continue to do exactly that. The people who underpaid their fellow Americans year after year and blamed the victim for the credit crisis. What kind of economics gives them a place before others? It’s called, “too big to fail” and it’s one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated by any American president, ever. It may have started under George Bush, but make no mistake: Barack Obama owns it now. Those trillions of government dollars belong in people’s paychecks and with every passing week the amount in our Treasury diminishes, and with it the prospect of shoring up the lives of millions of American families.
Could it really be any worse for those families? With little prospect of getting a good job anytime in the foreseeable future? Especially for the mounting numbers of unemployed people under 25 years old who face astronomically high unemployment rates? Check out Spain or Egypt. For the 400,000 people who gave up looking for work altogether in July? For the 35 million Americans getting help with food? The Nation magazine is now actually publishing a guideline to homelessness—the best blankets, dry ground, safety in numbers, etc. Life under bridges? An economy built on bank late fees? On nine months of COBRA subsidies? On dumping inventories at a record rate?
Of course Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner insists that a profitable financial system is “a necessary precondition to a stronger economy.” But exactly whose economy is that? Geithner is of a class of people who conveniently excluded the wage scheme – stagnant – from their calculations over the years and then was taken aback when a “bubble” formed. Imagine that. High interest debts and mortgages, fees… the term is “financial products” and what they produce is your demise. Why would anyone believe Geithner’s math now? Or have any regard for Rahm Emanuel, the guy who hates to waste a crisis? Some scratched their heads as he recently argued that rising deficits required a scaled-back stimulus, only to reverse himself shortly thereafter, calling for a second stimulus. The guy who is going to get it all done at once? The point is that either way we lose because none of that money gets you paid on Friday.
In the Friday Paycheck scenario – not where a contract is a contract when Larry Summers says it’s a contract – the speculators get what they get. Pieces of the multi-trillion dollar speculative escapade would be picked over the same way toxic assets are being picked over now. Bankruptcy is the new M&A, report the financial pages, and deals are soaring. So let the vulture capitalists do like vultures. Commercial property loans, as much as $3.5 trillion outstanding, are facing default. Let the vultures feast. Afterall, vultures, canaries… what’s the difference? Is your money on the line? How did you do March to June? When the S&P surged, the biggest three-month gain since 1933?
By the way, what was the basis for that surge? How do so many companies – several hundred of the S&P 500 — report worse-than-expected revenue growth and yet strong results? By “squeezing costs mercilessly– and the biggest cost for most businesses is labor,” reported the Wall Street Journal. No wonder private sector employment goes down year after year, despite calls from some corners of Wall Street, like economist Ed Yardeni, who said this month: “The important thing is for businesses to stop firing.” A stockholder could sue for that.
That’s exactly why a Paycheck President needs to come forward. What could be more healthy for the US economy, and more needed, than paying the mortgage or rent this Friday, buying groceries and goods this Friday? Stop the vicious bank raiding of minority America? Don’t the West Wing millionaires cringe when they read that the purchase of school supplies is down? Isn’t their boss, eyes refocused after a good gaze into the Grand Canyon, glowering at them? Do they really party when a 0.1 per cent decline in unemployment – completely trumped up – is announced?
Every teacher job guaranteed for the coming semester. Expand Medicare, Medicaid and the VA today and hire health care workers to fill those ranks right now. Get them paid this Friday. Crack the whip at DOT – where reports of a dearth of shovel-ready projects have been leaking out for months — and get people paid now. Get DOE going on alt energy. Pay them to plan and get ready. FDR managed to employ – directly – 8.5 million Americans, some of them for public art projects, for concerts. Do that, too. Hire, hire, hire. Pay them.
Back to those school supplies. Sure, those are somebody else’s kids. But how long does Barack Obama think people will listen to lectures about responsibility? Lectures that “education begins at home”? That’s easy to say for kids, like, say the Obama kids, who go to a school chockfull of labs, music, pools, art, trips… and for whom after school is chockfull of labs, music, pools, art, trips. Trust me, by the time they get home they have their fill of education. Who wouldn’t? And what does that leave for Mommy and Daddy? They did their part making their bank accounts chock full. A Paycheck President thinks about your bank account, too.
School supplies, food, electronics, furnishings, clothing, …for most goods and services prices were down more in the last year than in any of the last 60 years. Still, despite lower prices demand is down and its return hardly assured, unless of course you do Geithner math. That’s the math of a “jobless” recovery. Just as Bill Clinton sold NAFTA as a jobs program, Obama’s jobless recovery is a jobs program, too. Or as the president likes to say: “It’s going to take some time.”
A Paycheck President wouldn’t say that. He would know that there is no substitute in micro or macro terms for getting people paid this Friday. He would know that it only works if you pay them well. What possible gain is there to be had by keeping so many people over a barrel? And as people get their lives together, not amidst the utter political and economic chaos – and continued profiteering – that is the Obama presidency, let’s debate how we build a better economy beyond Friday. There’s gotta be something better than bank late fees.
CARL GINSBURG is a tv producer and journalist based in New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org