Sam Uretsky

A Low Bar Set for the Senate, and It Shows

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution. Since New Hampshire was the ninth state to do so, the Constitution became the law of the land. Article 1 Section 3 of this great document specifies: “ No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” On Dec. 21, 1970, the US Supreme Court, in Oregon vs. Mitchell (400 US 112) upheld the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, which prohibited literacy tests for voters.

For 182 years, a state could demand that a voter be literate, when there was no such requirement for a US senator. This may explain the party line vote on the economic stimulus bill. Arnold Kling, not a senator but an independent scholar affiliated with the Cato Institute, which is sometimes described as a “think tank,” although there’s not much evidence of thought, was quoted as saying “(it’s) destroying my daughters‚ future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs,” The Republican explanation is that the stimulus plan has to be paid for with borrowed money, and increases the national debt.

At least they understand that part.

Never mind how we got here, not a word will be said about the disastrous Bush tax cuts that turned the Clinton budget surpluses into growing deficits, and complete silence about the even more disastrous Iraq War which cost our money, our children and our souls — the bottom line is that we’re broke, and we’re taking the rest of the world down with us. Traditional Adam Smith economics says that when demand for a good or service goes down, the price will be reduced until it reaches a level where people will start buying again. What’s missing is an answer to the question of who buys when nobody has any money. When business gets bad, the boss reduces costs by firing workers, but every one of those workers were somebody’s customers. The result is a downward spiral that leads to Homerville. Prices can drop to rock bottom, but it won’t matter if nobody has any money.

This is where John Maynard Keynes comes in. His 1936 work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, isn’t suited for beach reading, but in 1923 he wrote an essay, “Social Consequences of Changes in the Value of Money,” that should be used as a literacy test for senators.

The only way out of this mess is for whoever has money to spend it so that other people will have some income. However, when times get tough, rational people cut back on spending, so that it’s the responsibility of the government to spend for them. That’s it. All of it. It doesn’t matter how the money is spent. You can build public transportation systems, research ways to reduce global warming or corner the market in pictures of Elvis Presley painted on black velvet — the trick is to create jobs, give people the resources to buy, so that more jobs are created.

As for the complaint that the current bill is loaded with pork, that’s fatuous. There’s no question that some spending has more social and long term benefit than others, but if your goal is simply to get the economy moving, it doesn’t matter where you start, and while making schools more energy efficient in order to slow global warming and lower school operating costs and taxes may seem like a better plan than taking a bunch of inept bankers to a junket at a luxury resort, you might have different thoughts if you’re a Maine lobsterman, work for an American Kobe beef distributor in Oregon, or are trying to support a family by cleaning rooms in a Las Vegas hotel.

The idea of economizing on an economic stimulus bill is about as sound as Paul Wolfowitz’s notion that the Iraq War would pay for itself. A program that’s too large is less of a problem than one that’s too small, and the worst thing would be one that’s too late. While we’re waiting for the Republicans to agree to something, people are drawing money from their 401(k)s, and living off their kids’ college fund and destroying the future of all our children.

The Constitution doesn’t set very high standards for senators, and we’re all paying the price.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2009

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