The Politics of Economics: Fix the Broken and Ease the Pain

by Bob Schwartz

The great political lesson of the Great Depression was to fix the broken economy and ease the people’s pain. More than politics, this was a moral lesson too. Anything less—one and not the other—would have simply been wrong, politically and morally.

In many situations—the medical is one of them—it may not be possible to fix what’s broken without causing more pain in the process. But that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility to do everything possible to at least diminish that pain, both the original and whatever has been added.

In some ways, this is precisely where the politics of this election sits right now.

Even with the complex metrics of how bad things have been and how much or how fast they may be improving, neither party is unaware that there are problems to be fixed.

The Republican party wants us to believe that they are the ones to better fix these problems. Maybe they are, maybe not.

But the real distinction concerns the pain.

The Republicans seem to say that the pain already being felt and the pain that the fixes may inflict are a necessary and unavoidable phenomenon. Easing the pain will only make things worse and extend the problems, something we cannot afford. In response, some have pointed out that a number of the Republican policy makers are themselves feeling little or no pain.

The Democrats, in a position that is somehow ridiculed, seem to believe that while pain can never be eliminated, there is every reason to ease it whenever possible. That won’t always be possible, but at least it is worth exploring and trying.

In the medical context, there are still people who refuse to take painkillers, believing that it somehow makes you weak or that you are subject to becoming an addict. But medicine also recognizes that pain itself is tremendously stressful on the body, and the healing itself can be compromised by deep, chronic, unrelieved pain.

The same thing goes for the body politic. For those of us who were not there for the Great Depression, we have only family stories or history books. While our current woes are thankfully not that severe, there is plenty of pain to go around, and some of will it stay around for a while. Easing that pain is every bit as important as fixing problems. Mercy is never weakness, whatever some politicians may say.