Sunday, February 21, 2010

Passive Recession: Bringing the Jobs Back Home

Passive aggression often stems from a situation where a person, often a woman or minority, fears a loss of security if they assertively convey what they are thinking or feeling about what they see as an unjust and inescapable situation. Rather they are left with the only alternative of indirectly expressing their contempt. Domestic examples may be as simple overcooking food, having a perpetual headache at bedtime, working in a slow uninspired way or even small instances of tax evasion these and a thousand other strategies are meant to annoy, and passively retaliate against, a controlling force, and they often become fixed patterns of muted defiance. Now in our current economic sphere we are sadly seeing a similar strategy played out. The unemployed give up their search for work, while still receiving governmental assistance, and engage in job search where they consciously sabotage any chance for re-employment by blowing an interview. “The job isn’t my ideal.” “Why work when the government is paying me not to work." And,"they want me to do a job that used to be done by 2 or 3 people." Of course, this is a small minority of job seekers, but as the seemingly endless recession marches on this, and similar, strategies are gaining momentum. On a governmental level we are experiencing a similar situation where authorities feel hopeless about the future, and thus “throw in the towel.” For any concerted effort to make the situation better a significant positive attitude change and effective government and corporate interventions needs to occur as soon as possible.

This lack of any attempt to find a real and/or lasting solution to chronic unemployment and underemployment is a major element of what I will call a passive recession. This is a new occurrence, although employment patterns have been tending this way ever since manufacturing jobs began to be either, mostly, lost or sent offshore in the 70’s and the 80’s. For a while high tech innovation appeared to replace some of these jobs, but unlike the manufacturing jobs, these required more than just a high school diploma (or less) and on the job training. Now the high tech and IT jobs have followed the same path. But this time there has been an element of betrayal, ageism, and economic exclusion. I don’t deny that businesses have to be profitable, but some myopic C level executives fail to recognize that the long term, self destructive, effect of their policies on their company and their country. This is often obscured by the short term concerns of building shareholders equity. The frightened lay-off victim is often muzzled from any legal recourse, particularly those over 40, by a severance package either based on either being paid to train offshore replacements or signing a non-retaliation statement. In other words, they are being pacified by fears of financial insolvency.

At present at least, there is little resolve to devise concrete solutions to extricate the US from this depressing situation. There is a lot of talk, but little agreement, or hope, on how to extricate ourselves from this increasingly precarious situation. There is no consensus or political will to make things improve. The media just reinforces the doom and gloom situation with their barrage of gloomy stories and scenarios that will further weaken the will of the populace. The administration, and its opponents to a certain extent, point to the recently strong increases in the GDP as indicative of a major upturn. But as any intelligent impartial observer may tell you, these are predicated on massive government financial interventions to prop up a precarious financial services sector and the buildup of inventory that may only have a few more quarters duration. This is not to say that the President’s recent assertion that these massive interventions staved off an extended depression, perhaps largely as an option to a much longer recession, offers little consolation to those who are losing their jobs, their houses, and often their self respect. Even the “recovery friendly” Federal Reserve, acknowledges that this “so called” jobless recovery will last to 2011 at the earliest. A very intelligent and insightful observer of the economic landscape recently told me that things won’t stay as they are now for very long. Rather the next two elections will most likely lead to either to improvement or a deterioration of the employment, and general economic situation.

In conclusion how can we restore confidence, the political will, and creative solutions to pull our nation, and job situation out of the hopelessness, and passive, reaction that seems never ending. Keynesian economists, like Paul Krugman, argue the economic redevolvement act (AKA the stimulus) was too small to generate any significant growth in employment, and we need to go back to the proverbial well for another round of stimulus. But unless the situation worsens dramatically, the extreme divisiveness that characterizes the current political and national mindset will make it nearly impossible to break this logjam. Poet WB Yeats’ prophetic line from his poem “The Second Coming: “The best lack any conviction and the worst are filled with Passionate Intensity,” sadly characterizes our dismal, passive recessionary mindset. This negative passionate intensity has perhaps been most articulated by right wing ideologue, and de-facto spokesman for the radical conservative wing of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, who made the incendiary statement that he “wants this president to fail.” Statements like this, and the activities of the populist, party supported, “tea bagger movement” are indicative that there is little concern for the dire situation of the demoralized, increasingly, pacified unemployed. Nevertheless I feel that the situation may not be quite as dismal as projected in the media, and the related national sense of helplessness could be improved. If the Fed could somehow cajole the banks to resume lending to small business, the acknowledged creator of most new jobs, then there could be an uptick in an employment and innovation; and innovation, in turn, could foster even more employment. Furthermore, if the administration can offer further incentives to mid large size corporations to slow down the steady stream of outsourced jobs, then the cynicism directed toward these companies could begin to abate. However, these solutions, if they occur at all, could take a significant amount of time to implement. Unfortunately, in the mean time, more suffering seems almost inevitable. But if the unemployed could organize, like the revisionist tea bagger movement, then they potentially could motivate Washington to attack the causes of this passive recession; and maybe a sustained recovery that addresses the dismal employment situation could begin..