|Economic winter: How cold will it get?|
I kid you not. Neighbor Mac and I were standing on the sidewalk in front of my house this Saturday, when I got another reminder of the dire economic situation in our state and in the nation.
I had been sweeping the walkway in anticipation of Maty's return from Africa when Mac came by, walking his dog. He stopped and we engaged in another of our rewarding discussions about state and national politics. (Mac's one sharp cookie, folks.)
Our conversation was interrupted when I inadvertently made eye contact with a short, swarthy man, smoking a cigarette, walking down the middle of the street. He was ambling along, glancing first to one side and then the other. When he saw me, he called out and approached me with a smile.
"How are you? Good to see you," says he, extending his hand to me, as if we were long lost acquaintances. I had no recollection of ever seeing him before.
"Do I know you?" says I, shaking his hand.
"I work for you," he says. At this point, it was apparent that his command of English was tenuous.
I was confused. "I'm sorry," I said. "I don't understand."
"You working?" he inquired. He indicated the broom in my hand and waved at my yard. "You have work?"
Then I understood. He was looking for day work, for some way to earn some money. (Granted, the condition of my front yard could be said to invite such inquiry, but I was still a tad surprised.)
"No, I'm sorry," I said. "I don't have any work for you."
The man shrugged and set off down the street, still on the lookout for opportunities.
"That about says it all, doesn't it?" says Mac.
Unemployment in Oregon is reaching desperate levels. Imagine being so desperate that you take to wandering the streets to randomly ask people if they need help with anything. Or, going back to the example I laid out last week, imagine being compelled to plunder your life savings to keep yourself in house and home. I've never in my life seen it this bad.
What can be done?
In the realm of state politics, I believe we have an opportunity to make things better.
Electing John Kitzhaber as governor has the potential to improve our situation and get us on the road to recovery. Kitzhaber has a plan to employ Oregonians to upgrade public school buildings, to make them energy efficient using Oregon labor. Our long-suffering construction industry would see an immediate benefit which would, in turn, benefit the peripheral industries that support construction workers. It's a public works program that recalls the days of FDR and the New Deal, when Americans were faced with similarly trying economic conditions.
Chris Dudley advocates capital gains tax cuts that will supposedly make Oregon more attractive to business. The idea is that, if we cut taxes for upper income Oregonians, they will then be encouraged to invest in Oregon. In other words, give money to the people at the top of the income scale and rely on their good will and business acumen to create jobs.
Governor Kitzhaber's plan won't make everything right, but it's a start. Wouldn't it be better for Oregonians to use tax revenues to put ourselves to work taking care of our infrastructure, than to absolve the plutocrats of their responsibilities for maintaining our society?
As I said to neighbor Mac, there are two ways to do it: the FDR way, or the Robespierre way. He got a laugh out of that.