When last we met, Horace, Tom and Winston were consoling Zach over the raw deal his generation is receiving due to the exploding cost of higher education. As we reenter the café, that discussion continues. But consistent with the magnificent anarchy that naturally attends every truly satisfying long conversation, soon they will be moving onto broader matters . . .
* * *
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Episode 11: Catch-22 Economics
by Steven C. Day
Upon first entering The Last Chance Democracy Café, looking to your left you’ll see a flight of stairs that leads up to our banquet room. It’s nothing fancy, as such things go — almost barren, really — but we book a lot of meetings there, probably because we don’t charge for the use of the room if the group eats. Believe it or not, the local Republican Central Committee actually booked its weekly luncheon with us one time. Herb, the county chairman — a nice guy by the way — just loves our spareribs.
Very early in the meeting, however, before they had even placed their orders, the whole group stormed out without a word. Herb later apologized, “Sorry, Steve, but some of our nutcases were afraid you might be bugging the room.” (”Nutcases” is Herb’s term of endearment for the Religious Right: Mine too, now that I think of it.)
I laughed out loud. “Tell them not to worry,” I said. “If I ever get the urge to listen in on a right wing blowhard, I’ll just tune into Rush Limbaugh.”
Herb was voted out as party chairman the next month, by the way — a consequence of the Religious Right completing its takeover of the local party. As a moderate on social issues, like abortion, he wasn’t their kind of guy. He still talks bravely about “living to fight another day” to return the “real Republicans” to power. But the truth is, it isn’t his party anymore, and I think he knows it. Today’s Republican Party is only for the pure of heart.
Whenever I get too down in the dumps about politics, I always try to remind myself how much worse things could be. After all, God could have made me a Republican.
* * *
“Have you ever read Catch-22, Zach?” asked Horace.
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22,” smiled Zach.
“Smart boy . . . I’m curious about what message, if any, you took from the book.”
Zach thought for a few seconds, then said, “That’s a tough one . . . but I guess I’d sum it up this way: Sometimes you’re just shit out of luck.”
“I like it,” said Winston.
Incidentally, the Bushspeak Machine was up and running again now, with a new cartridge.
Bushspeak: “Weapons Of Mass Destruction Are A State Of Mind.”
“Well, play along with me for a minute,” said Horace, “and let’s see whether Joseph Heller’s words have anything to say to us in our current discussion. We’ve agreed, I take it, that personal responsibility is an important thing?”
“And that part of being a responsible person involves trying not to incur more debt than one can reasonably handle? I think we covered that too, right?
“Sure. And like I said, I know I should . . .”
“Hear me out, please . . .” Horace interrupted. “And looking ahead to dental school and considering how much you’ve already had to borrow just to cover your undergraduate education . . . well, putting it bluntly, you’re looking at incurring a lot more debt than most quote, responsible, close quote, people would feel comfortable with. Have I overstated the situation . . . ?”
“No . . . I guess not,” said Zach, who was fidgeting uncomfortably.
Bushspeak: “Global Warming Is Nothing To Get All Hot And Bothered About.”
Since you don’t know Horace as well as I do, let me assure you that he didn’t interrupt Zach out of rudeness. He just didn’t want him to start apologizing for something he had no cause to apologize for.
“But I assume you’ll also agree,” Horace moved in for the kill, “that another part of being responsible . . . for a young person, like yourself, is pursuing an education. Trying to make the most of yourself you can.”
“I guess . . .”
“That’s sure what I think.”
“Okay, yeah, I agree.”
“Good. Then why don’t you tell me, given the cost of higher education today, and given that you don’t have parents who can afford to put you through school, just how you’re supposed to do the responsible thing of pursuing your education, without also doing the irresponsible thing of running up a huge debt?
” . . . Catch-22?” asked Zach tentatively.
“Catch-22,” agreed Horace.
Bushspeak: “God Has A Bush-Cheney Sticker
On The Bumper Of His Sports Utility Vehicle.”
Horace was right, of course. Back in 1980 the cost of tuition at a four-year public college constituted 13 percent of family income for a very low income family. By 2000, it had grown to 25 percent. When people in Zach’s parents generation went to public universities, society covered the lion’s share of the cost. It was considered an investment in the future. Whereas today, now that it’s his generation’s turn, society is picking up a much smaller portion of the tab, passing on much more to the students themselves and their families through drastic increases in tuition and fees. Massive debt is all too commonly the end result.”
But, hey, we had to help pay for those tax cuts somehow. (Pay for the small portion we aren’t simply passing on to our kids and grandkids in the form of a monstrous national debt that is.)
Carlos, another café regular, was sitting at the end of the bar talking to Marvin. The café sponsors the local Young Democrats in a summer softball league and Carlos is one of the coaches. The team did really well last summer, coming in second. We lost the title game to the Young Republicans when the umpire, who happened to be the brother of their coach, refused to count our last two runs in a disputed play.
And to think, some people think that sports has no relevance to real life.
Bushspeak: “Why Be A Real Warrior When It’s Safer To Just Dress Up Like One?”
Meanwhile, back at the big round table, Tom’s face had just lit up like William Bennett looking at three sevens on a $500 slot machine (for you traditionalists, it also lit up like a Christmas tree). “You guys just gave me a great idea! For three years, I’ve been searching for just the right name to give Bush & Company’s economic policies. Some call it trickle down economics, others supply side economics and Paul Krugman talks about starve the beast economics . . .”
“I’ve always been partial to crappy economics myself,” said Winston.
“It certainly makes up for in accuracy, what it lacks in aesthetics,” agreed Horace.
Tom ignored them. “Catch-22 economics is perfect! Because in almost every one of Bush’s economic initiatives, there’s a catch — a big assed ugly catch. Take jobs, for example . . .”
Horace shrugged. “Hell, I just wish there were more of them to take.”
“My point exactly,” Tom continued. “On the one hand, we have Tom DeLay saying we shouldn’t extend unemployment benefits because the economy’s already recovering, while on the other hand, the so-called recovery isn’t producing any jobs. So no benefits and no jobs.”
“Catch-22 . . . ?” asked Zach.
“Catch-22,” confirmed Tom.
Bushspeak: “University Admissions Should Be Based Strictly On Merit
Except, Of Course, For The Children Of Rich Alumni.”
“And it’s the same story all the way across the Bush economic waterfront,” continued Tom. “Take the minimum wage . . .”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take it,” interjected Horace. “No one could live on $5.15 an hour.”
“Again, my point exactly,” said Tom, this time with a hint of irritation. He was no doubt wondering how many more times Horace was going to answer one of his rhetorical questions. But he pressed on. “The Bush people like to say we can’t afford to raise the minimum wage, because if we do, employers will eliminate low paying jobs leaving the people who held them unable to care for their families. Of course, with the current minimum wage as far below a living wage as it is, if we don’t raise it, they won’t be able to care for their families anyway.”
“Catch-22,” said Zach.
“Big time,” agreed Tom.
Bushspeak: “Going AWOL From The National Guard Was Actually An Act Of Conviction:
It Just Happens That My Convictions At The Time Were To Drink Heavily,
Screw Off And Let Others Carry The Load.”
“Let me play,” said Horace. “Here’s a good one: It was absolutely imperative, the Republicans kept telling us, that we adopt Bush’s first tax cut package because, by doing so, we could provide the average hard strapped American family with a tax savings of almost $1,000. Of course, since the pool that made up that “average American family” included a guy . . . What was that dude’s name again? Oh yeah, Bill Gates . . . Since people like him were included in that average, almost 50 percent of Americans actually ended up with reductions of less than a $100, and many didn’t get a dime. Worse still, since the federal tax cuts aggravated the states’ existing budget woes, increases in state and local taxes and fees . . . for many people, more than made up for the small federal reduction . . .”
“In short,” Tom broke in, “working class Americans do get to participate in the Bush tax cuts, they just shouldn’t expect to pay less in taxes because of them.”
“Catch-22,” said Zach.
“Bet your sweet bippy,” said Horace.
Bushspeak: “Arrogance Is The Most Underappreciated Of Art Forms.”
“Okay, my turn,” Winston jumped in. “Ordinary workers shouldn’t complain about the huge compensation packages corporate CEOs are receiving these days, we’ve repeatedly been told, because those packages, and especially the stock options in them, help to motivate corporate executives to push up corporate profits and stock values, thereby assuring the company will remain healthy and able to meet its payroll. Of course, the most popular technique for accomplishing this among CEOs of late, has been to layoff large numbers of workers in order to increase, quote, productivity, close quote. So, while it may be true that the company will be able to meet its payroll that isn’t going do a lot of the workers much good, since they’ll no longer be on that payroll.”
“Catch-22,” said Zach.
“Catch-22,” said Winston.
Horace jumped in again. “Along sort of the same lines, Bush & Friends argue that workers shouldn’t sweat the outsourcing of their jobs to Third World countries because, according to economic theory, outsourcing will lead to increased productivity, which in turn will lead to the creation of new more highly skilled jobs. Of course, since Bush has consistently cut funding for job training programs, most outsourced workers won’t be able to get the training they need to compete for these new jobs even if they do eventually start to appear.”
“Catch-22,” said Zach.
“Catch-22, right where it hurts the worst,” Horace agreed.
Bushspeak: “Judges Shouldn’t Legislate From The Bench . . .
Unless, Of Course, They’re Conservatives.”
Tom stood up, holding his glass high in salute. Although we could go on and on with this, instead, in honor of today’s discovery of the new science of Catch-22 economics, allow me to offer an economics related toast: Honored guests, please raise your glasses in solemn memory of the passing of Alan Greenspan’s reputation.”
“I’ll definitely drink to that,” said Winston. And then he did.
Actually, then we all did.
“Well then,” added Horace, “as long as we’re on the subject, how about a toast for the loss of Bob Woodward’s journalistic standards, as reflected . . . in small part only, by that ridiculous puff book he wrote about Greenspan.”
We all drank to that as well.
Then Zach changed the subject slightly. “We’ve been talking about jobs so much, it occurs to me that I remember hearing that Bush’s record on job growth has been the worst of any president since Herbert Hoover.” Judging by the look on his face, I think Zach was expecting to be congratulated for knowing that.
Bushspeak: “Being President Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.”
Horace quickly obliged. “Very good point. That’s absolutely correct.”
Winston’s response, predictably, followed a somewhat different approach. “I’m ashamed of both of you,” he thundered, smashing his whisky glass onto the table. “How dare you compare Bush to Hoover? That’s completely unfair!”
Zach looked perplexed. ” . . . I have to tell you, Winston, I’m a little surprised to hear you worrying about being fair to Bush, given . . .”
“Who the hell said anything about being fair to Bush? I’m talking about being fair to Hoover. Herbert Hoover was a fine man. He deserves a lot of the credit for feeding millions of starving people in Europe in the years following World War One . . . Now, it’s true that he wasn’t up to the job when the Great Depression hit, but that’s no reason to insult the man.”
Horace reached over and gave Zach a pat on the back. “Have you noticed how every time you try to say something you’re sure Winston will agree with, he somehow finds a way to take the opposite side?” he smiled.
“Yes, now that you mention it.”
“Does that make you think of anything?”
“Catch-22?” asked Zach.
“Yes, definitely, Catch-22,” said Horace.
“If only Bush’s were as harmless,” said Tom.
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright Steven C. Day. WGAw #97400