Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Crashes - Times 2

Dickens opened A Tale of Two Cities with this quote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ...

One might update that sensibility in these times as:

It was the worst of times, it is the worst of times,
it was the age of foolishness, it is the age of foolishness ...

Here's why.   By 1937, the New Deal was well on the way to pulling us up from the depths of the Great Depression.  But the anti-government intervention plutocrats, and their political puppets in Congress, succeeded in pressuring FDR to reverse course and implement budget cutting, growth killing austerity measures.  They claimed they were worried that the federal debt and deficit would result in stalling the recovery, by increasing interest rates and inflation.  Sound familiar?

The economy immediately sagged back into depression status,where it remained stuck until the unprecedented spending brought on by the military build-up for WWII.  This twist in the road to economic recovery, courtesy of massive government spending or stimulus, has served as the  foundation upon which the knuckle headed Republican right has rested the specious claim that it was the war, and not the New Deal government spending, which rescued the economy at that time.

Such a notion is a distinction without a difference, a classic example of a fallacy. Still, it has proven to have enough juice that many today believe it actually has some meaning.  This allows Republicans and Teacaners to wrongly promote government budget cutting and pain inducing austerity measures in tight times as growth producing and expansionary.  There is nothing I know of in the political and economic world that is quite this glaringly false, yet widely believed.

As a result, Obama's original stimulus plan was whittled down to a puny restorative for a massive problem.  Still, it managed to head off  the total catastrophe sent our way by the horrible economic policies of the Bush administration.  What would surely have been a bottomless crash, found a bottom. And that's where we have been for several years; on the bottom, but at least not still plunging.

Now, however, we find ourselves back in 1937.  A Democratic President, a Democrat, is caving into the idiotic demands of right wing economic and political pressure.  When we more than ever need massive government intervention  to kick start and kick up this economy, President Obama has decided to heed the Republican call to just kick it.  He capitulated to the newly radicalized, right wing controlled Congress, and signed off on pain and austerity budget cutting measures, guaranteed to bring forth - you guessed it - nothing but more painful and austere conditions.  In a word, this economy is again on the way  down.  Until and unless Obama changes direction, it is hard to see when or if this economy will.

There is yet another parallel, 1937 and today, crash story I find rather interesting.  It has to do with the disastrous consequences of foolishly ignoring scientific facts, in favor of doing the expedient.   The 1930s were the peak of the gas-filled airship era.  The German Zeppelin company was the leader of the industry.  And its huge Hindenburg vessel was the largest and most impressive of the fleet. 

But there was a problem.  The Hindenburg depended on hydrogen gas for lift.  In the original plan,  Zeppelin had called for it to be helium filled.  The U.S., however, owned all the natural supplies of helium, and had decided to stop making it available to Nazi controlled Germany.  So, Dr. Hugo Eckner, the head of the Zeppelin company, decided, against his better judgement and earlier plans, to go with the far more volatile hydrogen gas, purely for short-term expediency.  There was no effort to seek out other alternatives or to find another way.  Damn the dangers. 

Well, in May 1937, at Lakehurst, New Jersey naval air station, the Hindenburg exploded into flames, while attempting to tie up to its mooring masthead.  The famous incident was captured on video and reported live on radio.  It was stunningly horrific, so much so that it led to the end of the entire airship industry.

File:Hindenburg burning.jpg

Today, we are stuck on fossil fuel dependence.  We know that it is causing climate change. We know something of the horrific consequences which will result.  But political flak apologists for the industry, along with the whole right wing side of the political spectrum, which relies upon its death grip embrace of anti-intellectual ignorance to survive,  disdain and deny science.  We cannot be bothered with finding a better way; we want to do what we want to do, right now!  Damn the dangers.

This may engender not simply some singular, but a planetary crash.  This foolish disregard for knowledge and wisdom cannot lead to the end of a long gone airship industry, but it may lead to the end of the very air as we know it.

No comments:

Post a Comment