Monday, February 17, 2014

Trickle-Down Economics and Snake Salvation are very similar

(WPA artists made many posters promoting public health, such as this one asking the public to "Obey the Rules of Health." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

The star of a National Geographic reality show called "Snake Salvation" has died from a poisonous snake bite. National Geographic released a statement saying, in part, "we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced. Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation..."

It seems to me that a responsible statement would have offered, instead: "We are very sorry for the family's loss, but this incident should also serve as a message that handling venomous snakes is a very, very dangerous thing to do--a sure-fire way to make yourself sick or dead. Please don't do it." Instead, National Geographic's statement almost seems like a call for someone to fill the man's spot, so the reality show can go on.

And we know, of course, that people will continue handling rattlesnakes, cobras, and copperheads to show that their faith immunizes them from poison. Indeed, I would not be surprised if one day a group of people subjected themselves to shark attacks, by covering their bodies with whale blood, to prove that their faith would keep the sharks' teeth from penetrating their skin. (Perhaps some people are already doing this?)

(New Deal policymakers knew that good health was not something to be gambled with. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)    

Snake salvation is a lot like trickle-down economics. Despite it's massive failure and despite the fact that it's literally killing people (see "Note" below), our political "leaders"--particularly Republicans and Tea Partiers--are still promoting trickle-down economics as the means to economic salvation.

To the Supply-Side Cult, it doesn't matter that 30+ years of trickle-down economics has created (1) an uber-wealthy class that keeps getting wealthier and (2) a middle-class class that has to settle for stagnant wages, less benefits, and an increasingly monotonous work life. It doesn't matter to them that the already-rich got richer, but didn't bother to hold up their end of the bargain by creating good-paying jobs for the rest of was promised when the already-rich received gargantuan tax breaks in the 1980s and 2000s. The only thing that matters to the Supply-Side Cult is faith. And it's killing people (again, see "Note" below).

 (New Deal policymakers understood that the ability to earn money was vitally important to the mental and physical health of Americans. So they created work programs that offered job opportunities to the millions of Americans who needed and wanted jobs, and they created art that promoted labor, occupational training, career paths, and more. New Deal policymakers took direct action. Today, on the other hand, our policymakers persecute us with trickle-down theories and free-market fantasies. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Trickle-down economics and snake salvation are very similar. They both require you to push aside rational thought, act irresponsibly, and, if there are bad results, do it again. Both trickle-down economics and snake salvation are ideologies that play with poison.  

My fear is this: America needs a new and stronger New Deal but, instead, we're probably just going to get more trickle-down toxin.


To demonstrate how trickle-down economics and its siblings (plutocracy, austerity, and white collar crime) are killing people, consider this example: The rich have become much more wealthy over the past 30+ years, but tens of millions of Americans are still struggling with unemployment and low-paying jobs. Almost no one disputes this, although some--amazingly--would not blame trickle-down economics (even though it's the economic philosophy that has dominated our country for decades).

Further, we know that financial stress and unemployment can lead to suicide. And, indeed, we have had increased rates of suicide since the Great Recession began--see, e.g., here and here. In sum, trickle-down economics and its siblings cause financial devastation, and that financial devastation causes people to lose hope and take their lives. Oblivious to this (or simply unmoved by it), many Americans still preach about the wonders of greed, profit, selfishness, and trickle-down economics. I think that's pathetic, but perhaps I'm old-fashioned.

For information showing how financial stress and unemployment leads to increased rates of suicide, see here, here, and here.

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