Whose Recovery?


Economists say the recession is ending, but that's for banks and investors.

The rest of us are still screwed.

Great news for those of you who’ve been fretting about the economy, are losing or have lost your jobs or homes, can’t quite decide between medicine or food, or are just plain worried that some starving desperado is gonna jack your bling ride. It’s over. The depression, recession, whatever you want to call it—it’s over. The corporate media told me so.

The recovery is now officially in motion, according to, uh, someone somewhere.

Reuters just summed it up with a simple headline: “US Recession Seen Ending in Q3.” Q3 would be the third quarter of this year. With this being the 13th day of the eighth month, that would be now. So it’s over. As seen by, well, I dunno. It was just seen. Why ask so many questions? This is the passive voice. There are no actors. Writers fall back on this slop when they don’t quite have a credible source but want to say something anyhow.

Okay, read on and you get the goods.

“The Blue Chip Economic Indicators survey of private economists released on Monday showed about 90 percent of the respondents believed”—get this—“the economic downturn would be declared to have ended this quarter.”

Declared by who? “Would be,” future tense, “declared to have ended,” past tense, by mystery declarers. In the future someone will declare that in the past the economy recovered. Thanks for the inspiring news.

And who are the “Blue Chip Economic Indicators”? BCEI is a monthly, 16-page newsletter that you can subscribe to for $875 a year. According to the publisher, it “provides forecasts from 50-plus economists employed by some of America’s largest and most respected manufacturers, banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms.” Respected by whom? Forget it. The publisher documents the newsletter’s credibility by the fact that it is “frequently cited by such national outlets as Reuters, Wall Street Journal and Forbes.” Get it now? In this feedback loop, Reuters cites the BCEI because it’s credible, and it’s credible because they cite it. Now we understand the passive voice in their original headline—because “Fiduciary Industry Economists Claim Recession Over” just doesn’t quite have the same cheery ring. We’re getting similar tales of recovery, sometimes even with named economists as sources, from across the corporate media spectrum.

I was thinking about all of this the other day while walking on a crumbling New York State park trail, built by the Great Depression-era Work Progress Administration. Today it’s crumbling, in sore need of some work. According to the US Government Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of last month, 16.8 percent of the US workforce was hoping for such full-time work.

That’s right: Add those who have been unemployed too long and are no longer considered as part of the workforce—“discouraged workers” and “marginally attached workers”—and part-time workers looking for full-time work, and you get the official “U6” unemployment rate of 16.8 percent rather than the partial “U3” rate of 9.7 percent.

The corporate media tends to work with the rosier U3 rate ,while the alternative media often uses the more inclusive U6 rate. Either way, there are a lot of people out there who won’t believe any headlines touting recovery until they too have recovered from the “downturn.”

So why no WPA today to put people back to work fixing and creating infrastructure for everyone to enjoy? Or why no WPA to hire healthcare workers or teachers? The answer is simple. This “recovery” isn’t so much about putting people back to work—it’s about bringing the DOW back above 10,000. So rather than a jobs for infrastructure, or health, or education, program, we’ll borrow $3billion to fund the Cash for Clunkers bailout of the already bailed-out auto industry just as that very same industry slashes its domestic workforce.

I understand the concept. Mega-corporations, many of which were birthed after the Reagan-era gutting of free-market-protecting anti-trust laws, are just too big to fail. Lose Bank of America, for example, and we fall into a depression.

At least when we’re dealing with individuals whose irresponsible behavior caused negative consequences, recovery means changing bad behavior—not subsidizing future crack purchases.

There are a lot of economists out there who offer alternatives to the bail-out-the-corporations model, but they aren’t often cited by Reuters or other corporate press organs. Take, for instance, Arthur MacEwan of the University of Massachusetts, who names the current economic crisis “the Repression,” since it’s built upon a generation of rising wealth disparity, and has been the excuse for more of the same. Or maybe we could listen to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the Equity Trust, who document how income inequality undermines both the social and economic health of a society.

What’s recovering right now is the stock market—possibly followed by, if the media cheerleaders’ horses come in, a re-inflation of the housing bubble. This would be the recovery. If you’re lucky enough to own stocks and real estate, your stock portfolio and home equity will recover much of what they’ve lost. But is this good for everyone? Stock prices are buoyed by a combination of falling wages, which are a byproduct of high unemployment, and taxpayer-funded bailouts and subsidies of failing conglomerates. Such bailouts have alleviated fears of a domino effect of corporate failures. Stocks are also buoyed by the sheer fact that investors believe we’re in a recovery—a recovery for investors, that is.

Let’s think back to the day before bank failures stopped making the headlines. Before the housing bubble burst, turning irresponsibly written mortgages upside-down, high real-estate prices were often in the news because of their linkage with homelessness. High housing costs either put decent housing out of the reach of working people, or ate up disproportionately high percentages of their income. Bloated housing prices, while reaping unfathomable profits for a handful of speculators, developers and bankers, have caused real pain for most Americans. Why do we want to go back to an inflated housing market that punishes honest working people and rewards reckless, heartless speculators?

As for the labor market, when you get into the bowels of most articles written by recovery cheerleaders, you’ll find terms like “jobless recovery” or admissions that the recovery won’t reach the labor market anytime soon. So my question is simple: With respect to the integrity of language, how can anyone call this a recovery when most people will be left in pain? The only thing that’s recovered is the upward redistribution of wealth. For everyone else, our lexicon is now bloated with terms like “givebacks,” as if working people’s hard-earned salaries are gifts that now need to be returned.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College. His previous Artvoice columns are available online at www.artvoice.com and archived at www.mediastudy.com.

ęCopyright 2009

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