So, I’ve been listening to a lot (and I mean A LOT) of books about economics and economic philosophy lately. It has reminded me of when I first learned about Trickle-Down economics. It was high school social studies, probably 7th or 8th grade, and I had a very un-charismatic teacher named Mr. Clancy. I remember hearing about Reaganomics and saying that it didn’t make any sense, what incentive is there for the wealthy to let their wealth “trickle down?” Mr. Clancy insisted that that was just the way it was, and that it did, in fact, work the way its proponents advocated, and that there was no point to my further questioning it.
It has been over 30 years of Friedman economics (Reaganomics/supply-side economics/whatever) and America is suffering from the highest wage disparity it has faced since the Gilded Age. The average American’s incomes are so low that the middle class is forced to borrow for everything while the top earners incomes are so high that they have actively and openly begun seeking to use their grossly under-taxed incomes to corrupt the American political system in ways that will further enlarge their already vast holdings while gutting the Commons and robbing the rest of us of the American Dream. This thanks to the assistance of Friedman-friendly Supreme Court Justices declaring in no uncertain terms that the “Invisible Hand” is sufficient to police campaign contributions, and that there is no need for government involvement in this or many other fields, like high finance and securities trading.
In fact, there is very clear evidence that Friedman Economics, as well as the deregulation so loved by Milton Friedman and his powerful followers led directly to the internet bubble in the 90’s, as well as the housing & financial bubbles of 2008 & 2009, not to mention the poorly-thought-out race to globalization which gutted American Manufacturing in the 80’s & 90’s.
And yet, people are still advocating this style of economics. Not just dummies like me on the internet, but people in power who should be able to learn from 30 years of failed economic policy.
Trouble is, the philosophy of Milton Friedman didn’t fail the people in power. It made them fabulously wealthy and sustained and increased their power. It failed the rest of us, but with our political power subjugated by those who can afford to finance elections en lieu of paying reasonable taxes, there’s a sense among Americans that there’s nothing we can do but hang on and hope we don’t get sick or loose our jobs. Inequality in America is so vast that the single largest predictor of a child’s lifetime outcome is his/her parental income. You just can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if your parents can’t afford boots.
I feel like just maybe… if America’s Social Studies, Economics, and History teachers 20 years ago had been better incented to encourage their students to pursue their own curiosities, then maybe the ground level American’s such as myself might have discovered a better option. Perhaps I, and others like me would have learned about the man who’s economic theories helped pull America out of the Great Depression and put us at the top of the Global Economic Ladder, John Maynard Keynes, long before now. Or perhaps we could have found some new option by now. Who knows?
I don’t blame my former teacher alone. He was teaching to his curriculum. “Just following orders,” as the Nazis said. But damn, he could have at least tried to encourage my curiosity. I’m no more interested in this stuff now than I was then, I just never new it was out there because nobody ever showed me, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what teachers are for?