The economic news should be keeping you up at night

Instead of lucid dreaming, I practice not-so-lucid cable news viewing in snatches during the night when insomnia hits.

It is the best time to catch up on DVRs of what Lawrence, Rachel and Ed are saying on MSNBC, as well as Frontline on PBS, Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, and even an occasional foray into Glenn Beck on Fox.

And the more I learned, the more I agree with my friend Casey, whose new motto is, “We are sooooo fucked.”

Recent snatches:

  • NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG – You, dear news viewer, are naive or worse if you compare what’s happening in Madison, WI, to Cairo, Egypt. Egypt is a BIG deal about DEMOCRACY, worthy of wall-to-wall coverage, as evidenced by protests involving tens of thousands of educated young people in Tahrir Square. In Madison, however, protests of 70,000 folks over the weekend, including lots of educated young people, are not enough to persuade MSNBC to interrupt all-important re-runs of “Lockup.”
  • A COLLEGE EDUCATION IS THE KEY TO AVOIDING UNEMPLOYMENT – Really? The week-old Frontline show on the protests in Cairo featuring college-educated leaders of the youth protests – all unemployed. The good news is that they turned to Facebook and Twitter rather than haul out the tumbrels, but societies that fail to generate enough good jobs for educated young people risk dangerous instability.
  • THE GOP SAYS CUTTING BUSINESS TAXES WILL BOOST JOBS – Rachel Maddow on MSNBC noted that Exxon, our largest and most profitable business, has watched profits rise over the past few years, yet they keep cutting back on the number of employees. In 2005, Exxon generated $36 billion in income with 83,700 employees. By 2008, income has risen to $49 billion, yet the company had trimmed its workforce to 79,900 employees. How? Most corporations rely on outsourcing where they can, using technology to enhance efficiency (which means substituting computers for people) and on the time-tested method of working fewer employees harder and harder for less and less.

Maybe I am too groggy from lack to sleep to understand all this. But it seems to me that the message is that the new normal demands something better than the same old bromides about getting an education (on the left) and lowering business taxes (on the right) as solutions to our continuing unemployment crisis.

If getting a college degree (and acquiring massive debt in the process) doesn’t pay off with a good job at the end, the United States could well be headed toward instability that could rival what is happening in the Middle East. The number of college students flooding the Capitol in Madison might well be only the beginning and not the end of the story.

The fundamental question is whether capitalism, at least as it is practiced in the United States, can deliver enough good jobs quickly enough to keep its most talented young people happy. Moreover, some of us question whether the prevailing economic system can do so without destroying the planet in the process. Even if you believe that a consumer-driven recovery is sustainable, won’t risising fuel prices put the brakes on?

At the macro level, given the constraints on growth imposed by realities such as climate change and peak oil, can we find new ways for young people to make a decent living in ways that add meaning to their lives without raping the planet in the process? Is it time to invest in exploring neighborhood-based businesses where creative young people make and sell each other food, clothing and other items they make themselves? They might make less, but they might enjoy life more, all the while treading more lightly on the planet.

If not, then Casey is right, and we are sooooo fucked.

Bonnie Bucqueroux teaches at Michigan State University's School of Journalism and experiments with citizen journalism, including co-publishing Lansing Online News with Bill Castanier. They also co-host a radio show Mondays at 7 p.m. on LCC Radio - WLNZ - 89.7.

One response to “The economic news should be keeping you up at night”

  1. Tuesday, March 8, 2011 | LansingandBeyond.com

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