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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008 01:40 am

Stop clowning around with the economy

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Here's my no-cost economic reform plan for America: All politicians and economists who keep blathering at us that things really are in good shape if only people would get over their "mental recession" must henceforth wear clown suits and sit on whoopee cushions.

I'm talking about the clowns with straight faces who wag their fingers at us for using the "R" word. Then, out trots clown in chief, George W., to deliver this punch line: America's economic fundamentals are "sound."

Sound? They tell us that America's unemployment rate is only 5.7 percent — so, be happy, go shopping. I hate to burst a clown's balloons, but that's nearly 9 million of our people, 1.5 million more than were out of work a year ago. No laughing matter. Meanwhile, corporate chieftans are downsizing and offshoring jobs likes cats shedding hair, and it's clear that they don't plan to stop anytime soon.

Sound? Hidden in their happy employment numbers is a painful economic reality for millions of working-class families who do have jobs. They are people who were working full time, but have had their hours chopped to part time, meaning their incomes have dropped precipitously. This involuntary downsizing is the stealth thief in today's economy, and there's nothing sound about it. More than 5.3 million Americans are now working part time against their will — a jump of more than a million in the past year.

To seed real expansion, government and business must switch to a vigorous policy of percolate-up economics. A good place to start is with a historic, multibillion-dollar national effort to rebuild and extend America's infrastructure. Let's enlist and invest in millions of our people to do the productive work that America needs done — from fixing our roads and bridges to retrofitting every home and building for energy conservation, from making our Internet system world class to connecting population centers with high-speed trains.

These are big national goals that are worthy of this great country, allowing people to lift America up themselves — both economically and spiritually.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.

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