Pain as a Policy Choice

On average, our economy tanks every seven years or so. By now we should have a pretty good idea of why that tanking happens, how we can protect ourselves, and what the impact will be. Unfortunately, we don’t.

Recessions remain a bit like death, inevitable yet near impossible to predict. Like death, recessions also generate sadness. And the Great Recession, as a new collection of research papers from the Russell Sage Foundation shows, generated a great deal of sadness.

In 2010, one year after the official end of the recession, reported happiness hit its lowest level since researchers first started recording the measure in the mid-1970s.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. During this time, home prices tanked, unemployment skyrocketed, and retirement accounts shriveled up. And many of the hardest hit families still haven’t recovered financially, leaving millions of households now more susceptible to the next downturn, not less.

“Americans are financially worse equipped to handle unemployment now than a generation ago,” the Russell Sage researchers point out, “thanks to deteriorating household wealth and unemployment insurance benefits.”

Endurance athletes and psychologists will both tell you that humans can adeptly block out memories of pain and suffering. In the retelling of stories, we often gloss over the ugly parts and choose to remember the pleasantries. This also appears to hold true for economics, too.

In the period since the last recession, the stock market has more than tripled in value. Yet this increase has essentially only benefited those at the top. Our too-big-to-fail banks have grown even bigger, and reckless behavior has returned to the financial markets. Inequality has also been rising steadily, with nearly all the income gains of the “recovery” going to the top 1 percent.

But this growing inequality isn’t inevitable. It’s a result of policy.

The federal minimum wage still hasn’t budged from $7.25 an hour, a go-hungry wage for families. Federal tax expenditures, meanwhile — like mortgage subsidies and beyond — go overwhelmingly to the already wealthy, and do little to help low- and middle-income workers save.

That reality hurts Americans of all colors, but it hits black and Latino families particularly hard. Racist policies have blocked them from wealth-building opportunities for generations.

The researchers at Russell Sage have provided a sober reminder that the Great Recession brought with it brutal and wide reaching pain. We need to take action now to soften the blow of the next recession and prevent the suffering we know is coming.

Changing our public policies to reach these goals, the data show, will make us all happier.

Distributed by OtherWords.

More articles by:

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS-dc.org).

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring