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MASTER AND PUPIL IN THE DISMAL SCIENCE (PART I)

December 4, 2015

MASTER AND PUPIL IN THE DISMAL SCIENCE (PART I)

Joseph E. Stiglitz and I have one thing in common. We were both born and raised in the State of Indiana, he in Gary and I in rural southern Indiana, but the resemblance stops there. He is a Nobel Prize winning brilliant economist who has had (and is still having) a distinguished career in lecturing and writing and international service to government agencies and the Clinton Administration, holding forth presently as professor of economics at Columbia University and chief economist for the Roosevelt Institute.

I have had no calls from the Nobel or any other committee congratulating me on an impending award for outstanding service in any discipline, having only a B.A. in economics and a law degree. I briefly considered pursuit of a doctorate in the dismal science but instead went through the law school as I had originally planned. As between us two Hoosiers, he is clearly the master and I am even more clearly a latter day pupil (and a very appreciative one to, figuratively, sit at his knee and soak in his wisdom and mastery of the dismal science). The only area in which I have him bested is that of age, a dubious plus.

When I heard via the net that he had published another book, I immediately went to Barnes & Noble to obtain a copy, but the clerk said it was so new that they didn’t have any yet. My daughter, who happened to be visiting me here in Florida at the time, quickly obtained a delivered copy via Amazon.

The book’s title is Re-Writing the Rules of the American Economy, and it is a great if succinct handbook on what our economic problems are, how they came to be, and how we can solve them in the interest of economic growth and shared prosperity. I recommend without any reservation buying and reading it to anyone reading this essay.

Quite aside from whatever royalties he may gain with publication of this book, he has done a public service with such effort. If policymakers were to read this book and take his recommendations to heart by including them as policy planks in their political parties’ platforms, I am persuaded that our country’s economy would boom and the middle class would enjoy a rapid expansion while the ranks of our poverty-stricken Americans would dwindle as millions of its members would move up to the middle class where, unlike now, our middle class is descending by the millions into poverty.

Our current economic descent of America’s hoi polloi into the doldrums and even possible Third World status doesn’t have to be our fate. It was policy (and abdication of policy) which got us into this mess where the rich and investment class own most of the country’s wealth and 25 hedge fund managers make more than all our nation’s kindergarten teachers combined and where Wal Mart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of all Americans, and it will be rewritten policies which rescue us from this continuing economic tragedy of an underperforming economy and underpaid workers and a yet bleaker future for ordinary Americans, especially with the hump of millions of new victims of Bush’s Great Recession whose mortgages were foreclosed and jobs either lost or sent overseas.

America and its people deserve much better leadership by policymakers than they have had and are having in giving away the store to the rich with corporate welfare schemes and leaving the rest of us with the bill in this two-tiered economy, one plane reserved for tax and other breaks for the rich in exchange for campaign contributions, and the other for the rest of us in the form of inadequate wages, sky-high health and education costs, inability to seek bankruptcy relief for underwater mortgagors and student loans etc., a situation which proves beyond doubt that the deal is, in fact, rigged.

So how do we un-rig the deal? Perhaps unfortunately, reform in bringing about a fairer economic system where all Americans (and not just those with rich daddies) are accorded equal opportunities to succeed (or the best of which the situation admits considering differing abilities) is political in nature. After we have read all of the economists’ lectures and books and equations and high-sounding pronouncements of impending prosperity or doom unless a certain course is or is not followed, it comes down to a brutal, bare-fisted fight at the polls.

The issue to be decided at the polls is or should be which party and its candidates are for reforming the present system of giving away the wealth and income to a narrow slice of Americana and which party and its candidates are in favor of policies requiring a greater sharing of the income and wealth generated by our economy with all of Americana. How to know? Look at the record, which is crystal clear. The Republican Party has sold its soul for manna, aka campaign contributions. Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, both Republicans, if they were around today, would be utterly appalled at such sellouts of America and its people, as I am.

This economy belongs to all of us; it’s our economy; not just that of corporate boards and paid-off politicians and Wall Street banks and paper shufflers. We the people have a giant stake in how our economy is performing, and in my estimation, we must take a far more aggressive posture in reforming its operative effect with a view toward political adoption of policies which pay workers what they are worth after decades of stagnant wages, tax and bankruptcy reforms and a strengthening of the nation’s social contract with its citizens, among other such reforms involving regulation of markets etc.

The foregoing is prelude. Part II will get into the specifics of Stiglitz’s “how we got this way” and “what we can do about it,” including some input from Piketty on the topic. Stay tuned.    GERALD   E

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