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The Elephant in the Room

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: November | December 2012
Photo: Adrian Garcia, Daymon J. Hartley and Brett Jelinek
The main issues in the presidential elections were jobs and the economy. Photos of thousands of Chicagoans demonstrating in front of the Art Institute where the Futures Industry Association and Mortgage Bankers Association were holding a convention. On October 10, 2011. | Latino parents supported the teachers' strike in Chicago this September 2012. | Michigan Workers demonstrate against layoffs as corporations receive tax breaks.

Neither Romney or Obama Faced the Real Economic Problem—Making Life’s Basics a Right

This year’s presidential election was all about the economy, specifically how to create good-paying jobs. But the candidates ignored the elephant in the room—the increasingly sophisticated robots now replacing workers in industry after industry.

In the heat of the campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney vowed to create millions of new jobs by cutting taxes on corporations and the rich. Democratic President Barack Obama promised to create millions of jobs through spending on infrastructure—roads, bridges, schools, and the like.

But neither candidate addressed the looming loss of millions of jobs worldwide, as corporations replace real human beings on the job floor with fast, mobile, second-generation robots.

That would have required Obama and Romney to explain that new, computerized automation means corporations increasingly have no need for workers.

They would have had to explain that this world-changing shift underlies the economic crisis as a whole.

And they would have had to explain that the most important political question facing people in the United States today is how to reorganize society so that everyone benefits from the new mode of production—and no one is left out on the street to starve.

Instead, the Democrat and Republican candidates showed they are part of a dying party system. And their talk of creating jobs became a smokescreen to hide the new realities facing humanity.

Yet also on the ballot this year was the beginning of a new party system in the U.S., one pitting the old parties dominated by the 1% against a party of the 99%, represented today by the Green Party.

In the campaign, the Green Party alone made basic human needs a right—food, housing, health care—whether or not people have a job. In its place, they accepted unpaid work as having inherent value “essential to a healthy, sustainable economy and peaceful communities.”

But while the old parties were laying their smokescreen, Federal Reserve Bank chairman Ben Bernanke was announcing the Fed would again flush billions of newly printed dollars into the banking system, buying up more of the banks’ home-mortgage bonds at inflated prices.

Publicly, Bernanke argued that giving more money to the banks would create jobs. Instead, the Fed is further devaluing any dollars still in people’s pockets by inflating the prices of basics—food, gas, rent, health care.

For two years, the 1% have been trying to bamboozle people into believing that the economy is in recovery, but hardly anybody believes them.

In fact, writing in the Wall Street Journal, billionaire real-estate speculator Mortimer Zuckerman admits, “We are experiencing, in effect, a modern-day depression.”

When the official unemployment rate dropped, he explains, it was because some 8 million people have stopped looking for work and aren’t counted.  Add them—and the people working part-time who want full-time work—and the real unemployment figure is almost 19 percent.

Worse, employers are driving down wages, Zuckerman reports. Household incomes are almost 9 percent below the 1999 peak.

Meanwhile, the number of people 55 and older who are working is actually increasing, because they have lost 75 percent of their savings, most from the fall in the value of their houses.

That, and the lack of new jobs, is creating “a huge bottleneck blocking youth employment.” Joblessness among 16-24 year olds is double the national rate. Half of recent college grads can’t find jobs their education qualifies them for.

Like Romney and Obama, Zuckerman thinks the solution is to give the corporations more money, and rebuild the infrastructure. But like them he doesn’t explain why business should hire people when it is cheaper to use high-tech automation.

With robots replacing workers, creating  jobs is not the problem. Creating a new way to share the bounty is the problem. And any party of, by, and for the 99% will put that front and center.

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