Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tired of Holding Your Breath? Maybe It's Time to Whistle While We Work

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let's sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Copyright 1929 by Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics)

Today is the day that things are going to look up. I’ve decided that. The rest of you may or may not agree with me, but I am getting tired of holding my breath. The Bank of Canada dropped its overnight lending rate to .5 per cent yesterday, an historic low. The move didn’t stop economic uncertainty and nervous markets, but, heck, let’s take it as sign that things will eventually improve.

The only questions are when? and in what form?

The song “Happy Days” was written in 1929 and we all know how long recovery took back then. Yet I think we should draw lessons from Naomi Klein and the mayor of Tampa, Pam Iorio. The former’s book The Shock Doctrine argued that we must guard against ideologues and monsters of corporate greed who would use disaster to make money and societal changes. Her message may be getting through: as Rahm Emmanuel says “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” and the Obama government seems ready to use this one to do away with several decades of movement conservative doctrine.

Pam Iorio told The New Yorker that the Tampa region should use the opportunity that federal anti-recession money offers to build a light rail system. Not only would such a project provide jobs it would help move away from automobile-centered development. It looks like the project is still a long way from realization—a referendum will probably be held next year--but that’s the kind of thinking we need.

Don’t get me wrong. Undoing the mess we’re in s going to take a lot of work and some fundamental changes in attitudes toward government. But not much is going to be done if we adopt a defeatist attitude. Singing (or whistling, as the Seven Dwarfs did in the Disney film) while we work may raise our spirits enough to get task done.

Note, by the way, the year that Snow White came out: 1937, just as North American governments began to follow what would later be called Keynesian economic policy.

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