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Why we need unemployed man now more than ever

 StreetWise (USA) 06 January 2019

Although the Great Recession of 2007-2009 is technically over, millions of people in the United States (and throughout the world) are still facing tremendous hardship. With 15.1 million people officially out of work, the November 2010 unemployment rate crept up to 9.8 percent with the “unofficial” rate (including discouraged and involuntary part-time workers) registering in at 17.0 percent. (838 Words) - By Victor G. Devinatz

Unemployed Man

Photo courtesy of StreetWise

Undoubtedly, the high unemployment rate resulted in the Republicans retaking the House and making gains in the Senate in the recent elections. Americans were frustrated that the Democrats, who were in power for less than two years, did not do more to decrease unemployment.

The problem was not with the implementation of the stimulus package per se. A study by Professor Alan Blinder (Princeton University) and Mark Zandi (Moody's Analytics, Inc.) indicated that the stimulus slowed the drop in gross domestic product and preserved about 8.5 million jobs. If the stimulus had been larger, it could have helped to promote economic activity and save even more jobs, leading to a lower unemployment rate.

While Republicans argue that they can stimulate the economy and reduce the debt without raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 per year and with a prostrate Democratic Party, another stimulus package does not appear in the offing. That said, the present conditions lead one to believe that there will be continued high levels of unemployment for years to come.

And with few Americans understanding the events leading up to the Great Recession is where The Adventures of Unemployed Man (Little, Brown and Company, 2010) comes in to shed much light on the subject. Created by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, this graphic novel (or comic book) tells this story of economic destruction in an entertaining, action-packed and informative manner.

Beautifully illustrated by a crack team of cartoonists, the story focuses on Ultimatum, the Dark Knight of Self-Help (aka Bruce Paine) who delivers self-help literature to the unemployed, believing that they lack sufficient motivation to obtain work. When he finds an employed worker rummaging through a dumpster for food because her wages are too low for survival, he discovers that she is employed by his company, Painecorp. Attempting to convince Painecorp's board to raise wages, Ultimatum is promptly fired becoming Unemployed Man and subsequently subjected to evil forces such as Cobra, who will continue his health care benefits for only $2,000 a month and Plaztik, who cannot extend him more credit.

Unable to find work and having no place to live, Unemployed Man moves to Capetown USA, where other "unemployed heroes" live, using their capes for tents. Listening to their stories, Unemployed Man realizes that none lost their jobs because of attitude problems but because as he states, "the game was rigged and they couldn't win."

The politically-sophisticated authors do an excellent job of explaining the current financial crisis through The Just Us League's dismantlement of the Glass Steagall Containment Device (the Glass-Steagall Act) which leads to a toxic debt blob running amok after the League's "financial innovations" go awry. But, as the graphic novel points out, the problem commenced more than three decades ago when real wages began their precipitous fall. In order to purchase the goods they produced, workers accumulated debt by turning to easy credit; this eventually included the buying of their homes.

The Hero-in-Chief (President Obama) and the Free Marketeers (Larry Summers and others) are called in to defeat the toxic debt blob. It is a pyrrhic victory; although Wall Street is saved from the blob, Main Street isn't. The Hero-in-Chief, who deployed the social safety net, is left to wonder why it contains so many holes and can't save the struggling unemployed. The ending hearkens back to the 1930s New Deal era with the collective action of the unemployed "everymen" defeating The Just Us League and The Invisible Hand.

While, unfortunately, the story's ending is pure fantasy, it does not have to be. Granted, in 2010, there is no where near the unity of purpose of labor unions, unemployed workers, farmers and consumers that existed to compel FDR and Congress to enact many New Deal labor and economic reforms. With a Democratic administration in power in 2008, many progressive forces might have believed that beneficial changes would occur without any pressure from below. Clearly, they were wrong.

Things, however, might soon be different. With the Republicans' goal of imposing draconian economic cuts in the coming years, this might very well spur the reemergence of mass collective action and inspire a type of unity among progressive groups not seen for decades. The primary lesson, however, that can be drawn from The Adventures of Unemployed Man is that for real and lasting change to have a chance to occur, there must be continuing collective action from below regardless of who occupies the corridors of political power.

Dr. Victor G. Devinatz is Distinguished Professor of Management, specializing in labor relations, at Illinois State University. He can be contacted at vgdevin@ilstu.edu.

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