When Bill Clinton’s political strategist James Carvelle came up with a set of focal points for the 1996 presidential campaign he could hardly have imagined that point number two, “the economy, stupid,” would become a snowclone that would continue to haunt every recession and depression America would face. What was initially funny for both its bluntness and simplicity now stands as ignored as a four-way-stop in a one-light town at midnight. It’s always been about the economy.
I’m home now from a vacation that had to be revised on the fly when hurricane Irene wiped out the road to our vacation rental and plunged a good portion of the eastern seaboard into power outages and other side effects of destruction. What was initially frustrating about having this same vacation plan interrupted for a third year in a row (a long story) eventually became quite a nice makeshift vacation visiting coastal cities whose financial lifeblood had been chased away only days earlier. As we traipsed down from New England to Ocean City and Virginia Beach I took some consolation that our vacation dollars were going to instantly help the local economy bounce back.
But listening to Washington politicians argue about the need for job stimulation and boosting the economy leaves a sour taste in my mouth both before and after this trip. It sat poorly with me as I left my home for a little family down time and found myself constantly confronted with the problems of the American economy at nearly every transaction and interaction.
The problem with the American economy isn’t going to get better until we look in the mirror and realize the problem with the stupid economy is our own doing.
Arriving at our hotel in Ocean City, which had only reopened 24 hours earlier following the hurricane, we were asked to be understanding as 60% of the hotel staff had been evacuated for the hurricane and many had not yet returned. In fact, some might not ever return. Not because they had been displaced by storm damage the way citizens of New Orleans had been displaced after Hurricane Katrina, but because they weren’t even Americans. In Ocean City, the first people evacuated were the foreign students who, it turns out, are the cheap, imported labor that keeps this seaside vacation spot running. When it came time to evacuate these students, working as hotel maids and boardwalk shop workers, were put on buses and trucked inland to Baltimore for their own safety and protection. It makes sense on one level that we would want to assure the safety of our foreign visitors, but that number really started to gnaw at me.
Six out of every ten. That’s a lot of people being exploited for cheap labor, a lot of local money going into the pockets of businesses (who no doubt reaped some tax credits as well as exemptions from labor laws), and a lot of jobs not filled by citizens in a deep recession.
I’m not saying this problem is widespread, though we saw quite a bit of this in Virginia City as well, but I have to question the logic that goes into complaining about the government not doing enough to stimulate the economy when there are local economies that basically are importing labor from overseas, legally, actively.
How? Through a student J-1 visa that allows students from overseas work in the US for a couple of months before allowing them to travel. And the exploitation these students receive as part of this “cultural exchange” has basically created a situation close to indentured servitude, so much so that recently some of them went on a good old-fashioned strike. Aside from helping a smattering of businesses get around hiring Americans and paying them a decent wage, how does a situation like this help the overall economy?
Indeed, how long will it be before Americans come to understand that the only way this country found its way out of previous recessions and depressions was through sacrifice and sharing the burden, all the way to the top, not just at the bottom of the economic rung?
There’s an old expression that says you have to spend money to make money. There’s no way this economy is going to build itself. Either companies are going to need to pay more in taxes or they need to spend money on hiring and paying employees a decent enough wage so they can pump that money back into the economy. This isn’t socialism, or some radical leftist dogma, it’s a simple reality.
The sooner Americans realize the problem isn’t with politicians or government or even themselves but with the top 1% that controls 40% of this nation’s wealth the sooner we can fix this stupid economy.