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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 28th, 2008 - 00:39:35

You load $168 billion, whadaya get?
By Ben Tanosborn
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 28, 2008, 00:37

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Another quarter older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don�t you call us cause we can�t go
We owe our souls to the Empire store.

Fiscal responsibility and conservatism may still be thought of as a traditional married couple in our nation, certainly in the nostalgic minds of some chronologically-challenged Republicans. But rest assured, and economic historians will attest to it, that the conjugal bed of that couple hasn�t been slept in since Barry Goldwater left the Senate after his first double-tour of duty (1953-1965). You can accept it as factual and uncontroversial that Republicans squander with just as equal affinity as the more reputedly spendthrift Democrats. And just two weeks ago, Americans were given bipartisan evidence of such Capitol Hill waste; true unashamedly pilferage from the yet unborn.

By overwhelming ratios of 5 to 1 in the Senate and 11 to 1 in the House, economic stimulus legislation totaling $168 billion was passed, and signed into law by Bush on February 13. What an insult from a reckless legislature aiming perhaps at attaining Brownie points from the voters as the result of a belated, and forced, Christmas gift from grandkids to grandparents -- president and legislators acting as the benevolent mythical Santa Claus! What hypocrisy . . . what gall! Here are our elected career politicians trying to appear concerned about an economy they helped drown, either directly or by default. Centurions all in this duumvirate empire ran in a quadrennial game of musical chairs, these legislators patriotically cast their votes for more of the same measures which for more than a generation have been pushing the nation into the waters of an economic whirlpool.

And to boot, those billions won�t do a damn bit of good, none! If anything, mislead us for yet another day, and postpone the consequences of a government which rules only to benefit the few instead of the many.

Can someone explain exactly what these $168 billion extracted from the future sweat and blood of our grandchildren are supposed to do? Keep us squandering some more, maybe for another quarter? But that isn�t even true! That amount of money, which is barely 5 percent of the GDP for a single quarter will not even begin to cover the hidden costs that our government won�t dare talk to us about, such as the true inflationary costs if measured correctly against an appropriate basket of goods and services; or the continuing phony unemployment figures drawn from an improper base; or the ever diminishing services being received, particularly in healthcare, that people do without as their income proves insufficient to cover the basic cost of housing, food and energy.

Sorry for the old news, but recession has already been around for three or four months, at least for two-thirds of the population -- you know . . . those who assume CNBC is just a television version of the monopoly game; nothing else. These folks needn�t be told by any government agency that they simply have to do with less, that the dreaded �R� is finally here . . . and that �to squander� is already, for them, an archaic verb; that they are no longer the once affluent American middle-class, only the victims of a globalization process coupled with an upsurge of the predatory and thieving elite class.

Although it should be patently obvious that in the United States we�ve reached the limit in the average household income -- unless we put our young children to work or refuse to add to the statistics the millions of undocumented immigrants -- we appear to be in total denial and won�t admit it. In fact the probability of a declining average household income, when adjusted for inflation, is not only real but right now staring us in the face.

And while that probability looms, so-called experts living off the real estate industry still prophesize of housing righting itself in a year, two at most, and for never-ending profits to continue from then on. Never mind that prices probably need to take an additional downward adjustment in the 20-30 percent range, when a true housing inventory (nonspeculative) is allowed to rule the day; instead of so many homes being held until such a time as the market �normalizes,� a big joke which only forces a temporary inelastic supply. After all, you don�t lose money until you sell; yet they tally their housing assets at an unrealizable �market value� which is but a contradiction in terms.

And what seems so evidently clear in housing, applies to commercial real estate as well although with a different set of variables coming into play. The realization that both the retailers and the hospitality industry may have an �overbuilt� capacity well in excess of 20 percent brings to mind our ridiculing of the socialist central planning system during the days of the Cold War. Well, even in inefficiency we are proving we can outdo them!

Sorry, but consumer�s confidence is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, not when the footings in the economy are made of rotting wood. Stupid gimmickry, such as cash handouts by mall operators (Atlas Park shopping center in New York, last week) is but a reflection of consumers� ignorance, as well as that of the people they elect.

Of course, some progressive legislators, as if to make amends for this farce of an economic stimulus package -- and thus find redemption -- are asking the citizenry to spend/invest in sustainable products which they well know to be nothing but political posturing . . . a second farce.

Let�s remember that it is not savings or profits that will be pumped into the economy, only more borrowing: your grandchildren�s blood for you to do the vampire act.

� 2008 Ben Tanosborn

Ben Tanosborn, columnist, poet and writer, resides in Vancouver, Washington (USA), where he is principal of a business consulting firm. Contact him at

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