It's a depression. Let's get cracking

Its not about the budget, folks, it's about the economy
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By Calvin Welch

OPINION It's time we called it what it is: this is a depression. And we need to figure out the politics of the new age we are entering, especially in cities, which will be the ground zero for economic hardship.

While President Obama and the media continue to use euphemisms (the "subprime mortgage collapse," "the recession," "the credit crunch") for fear of causing a panic. But the recent tsunami of lost jobs and frozen credit, coupled with the long-standing structural problems of nearly 30 years of Republican magic-of-the-marketplace economic policies — shrinking real incomes for 90 percent of Americans, an obscenely expensive healthcare system that neither businesses nor workers can afford, and an outmoded and deadly carbon-based energy system — have created a new global depression, one the experts said could never happen again.

The current global depression differs in three important ways from your grandparents' (or great-grandparents') depression.

First and foremost, this depression was worldwide from the start. Although made in America, the global financial capital system infected the world economy one trading day after it affected ours. Second, the Great Depression was agricultural- and industrial-based, hitting small towns and the countryside the hardest. The current depression is financial service-sector based, and will hit cities and suburbs the hardest, especially the housing, real estate ,and retail sectors. Since the nation is far more urban than it was in the 1930s, our depression will put far greater strains on our urban politics and life-supporting social services to low income people, than anything that occurred during the Great Depression. Finally and saddest, this depression comes at a time when organized labor is weak, divided, and confused.

San Francisco leaders seem unequal to the challenges confronting us. Recently Mayor Gavin Newsom has come up with the usual policies that transform a bad recession into an even greater depression: cut urban health and human services, lay off city employees, and massively accelerate speculation in condo conversions in the midst of cratering real estate values and zero mortgage lending while providing an anemic stimulus proposal for a handful of small businesses that pay their workers very little and are no longer capable of providing health care.

But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed person is king. What is the progressive answer to these mindless proposals? The usual default answers: no cuts, no layoffs — and silence on all the other issues confronting us. This simply won't do this time. Its not about the budget, folks, it's about the economy.

We need to start talking with each other — now — about how we rebuild a sustainable urban economy that runs on renewable energy, provides health care for our people, and houses us all. Lets get cracking. *

Calvin Welch is a community organizer and resident of San Francisco.