Friday, September 17, 2010

"A Nation of Shopkeepers."

The famed lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson once complained to his biographer James Boswell that England "was a nation of shopkeepers." It may have been an uncharitably elitist statement on the merchant class. After all, shopkeepers selling to the population goods and services is the backbone of any economy, the starter motor, if you will, of the economic engine that drives a nation.

But when a nation once as prosperous as the United States becomes Johnson's urban nightmare of "a nation of shopkeepers", when roughly a quarter of the working force is no longer in manufacturing but in retail, selling shoddy goods that are made in China and other third world countries, it becomes a very real problem.

The Census Bureau has released its findings from the 2010 census and the news is far from encouraging. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of those Americans living at or below the poverty line is at a 15 year high. One in seven Americans is living in poverty, says our government.

That's 44 million Americans. But that's just the beginning of the bad news. If you're a person of color, your chances of living below the poverty line skyrocket by as much as 275%. 9.4% of whites live under the poverty level but 12.5% of Asians also do. 25.3% of Hispanics are in the same boat and 25.8%, the largest segment of the poverty-class, of African Americans live in poverty-stricken circumstances.

The poverty line had actually gone up in the last year or two. When Bush was leaving office, the poverty line for a family of four was at about $19,900 a year. It's been elevated to $22,050 yet 44,000,000 of us still qualify as being officially indigent. The Rude Pundit, in a relatively rare straightforward post, offers additional stark and bleak figures. More people are asking for help from soup kitchens, food banks, charities and their local churches.

Not only that, the Census Bureau hastens to add that the overall poverty numbers would actually be much higher if so many people didn't have anywhere to go after they were evicted from their apartments or foreclosed. If so many grown adults didn't move back in with their parents or siblings or friends, we'd have many more homeless than we do now.

Bill Clinton, for all his faults as a human being, nonetheless knew his national economics. Part of the reason why Clinton left office with a budget surplus is because he partly fixed the tax code and made earned income credit count again. Simply doing this, certainly a mere stopgap and compromising measure, almost immediately elevated roughly 2,000,000 American households (not people, households) out of poverty.

Yet the best Obama can do is appoint former Republican Senator Alan Simpson to head his Cat Food Commission and seriously entertain neocon ideas that involve axing Social Security and Medicare, two of the most important, effective and efficacious pieces of liberal/progressive legislation in our nation's history?

Why hasn't Obama appointed former President Clinton to his economic team? Why hasn't this administration learned to forgive the Clintons beyond making Hillary Secretary of State? Clinton was the only president in the last couple of generations to leave office with an honest-to-God budget surplus instead of a deficit. Less people were living in poverty thanks to Bill Clinton. One would think that, with his impressive economic track record, the 44th president would realize that, in lieu of any workable, commonsense ideas, the 42nd president could give him some timely, badly-needed advice.

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