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The Repeal of Reality

by James Bowman

Posted: Oct 03, 2008 02:42 PM

Whenever I hear anyone use the expression, "trickle-down economics," I want to reply — though I rarely get the chance to, as it is mainly on TV or in the papers that one hears or reads the people who are using it — "As opposed to what? Trickle-up economics?" I had thought up until recently that this would be, if I had ever got to use it in conversation, a pretty devastating rejoinder, since — pardon me for pointing out what I had also thought to be pretty obvious — things that trickle only ever trickle in the downwards direction. You may not like it, but they do. It’s a well-known fact. To trickle up they would have to defy the laws of gravity. As an old joke puts it, you only need to know two things to be a plumber. They are (1) s*** runs downhill, and (2) payday’s on Friday.

But the anti-tricklers do not suffer under the plumber’s necessity of doing or making anything for use in the real world, so they go on using the pejorative expression "trickle-down economics" in order to cast aspersions on the beliefs of people, like me, who stubbornly continue to suppose that, wherever there is trickling, it is bound to be down. Once I thought I only needed to point this out to them in order to produce an embarrassed apology, but now I find that it is not so. Headlines in both the Washington Post and The New York Times refer to the big Wall Street bailout by the federal government in terms of "trickling up" while on the progressive website Alternet Joshua Holland writes on "Trickle-Up: What a Progressive Bailout Would Look Like."

Imagine for a moment that we lived in a country with good, progressive governance. We wouldn’t find ourselves in our current pickle, but if we did, what might a real bailout plan based on just a little bit of economic justice look like? In short, it would be based on trickle-up economics. We’d bail out homeowners whose mortgages are on the bubble, and by doing so, the cash we were injecting into the economy would trickle up to ailing financial institutions.

In other words, we would abolish improvidence, debt, foreclosures and bankruptcy by giving people money. All of a sudden, trickling up begins to look not only possible but inevitable.

Doesn’t this set off any alarm bells in the progressive mind, I wonder? Apparently not. That mind is used to thinking in terms of doing away with unpleasant things by the sheer, gravity-defying power of good-intentions. I try doing a Google Search for "trickle up" and find that there is a website — www.trickleup.org — which seeks to put this brand on an effort to help the world’s poor. Wikipedia tells me that there is an economic theory of the "Trickle up effect" produced by micro-loans to the poor, though the article cites no sources and its neutrality and factual accuracy are disputed, according to Google. Golly, I wonder what the objection could be?

As something of a connoisseur of metaphor, I can’t help wondering if the growing currency of this expression is more indicative of mere rhetorical sloppiness — always a strong probability in these days of appallingly lax editorial standards — or of the fact that the left-leaning anti-tricklists are living in a utopian fantasy world where they imagine that their ideology gives them as much control over the laws of gravity as it does over the laws of economics. It does, too, for in fact they have no control over either but like to pretend that they do for the sake of those who can be got to worship the gods of the political market who promise these beautiful things. Just something to remember, both about the bailout and about the presidential candidate who is backing it to the hilt. Oh, right. They both are.

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