Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Whole Lot Going On


Most of us toil daily in order to exert some semblance of control over our own little corner of the world. Our lives can get so busy, so full of tasks, obligations and concerns, that it becomes difficult to follow what's going on in the world, much less think -- or, alas do something -- about it. That's just an observation, not a call to action or the beginning a diatribe about civic inaction and apathy. I'm as guilty of such culpable disengagement as anyone, and more so than many.

However, I have been observing the burgeoning financial crisis and the "market's" reaction to this ever-spiraling situation with great concern. Not because I have a whole lot of money invested (I don't), but because I just don't understand how so many ostensibly smart people can be blinded by greed. Why does the current state of financial affairs in this country come as a surprise to anyone? At every level, from micro- to macro-economic, we have been sold a bill of goods about the lifestyle we can afford. All the while, the rise of corporate profits comes on the backs of the workers who continuously are called upon to do more for less. The cost of EVERYTHING (gas, food, medical insurance/care, heating oil, housing, higher education, cars, etc.) continues to rise exponentially compared to wages. Yes, a select few do very, very well, but they're not the ones who drive our economy. They're the ones who continue to shoulder a disproportionately low tax burden, as the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and America's middle class shrinks. They're the ones who benefit from policy after government policy (or from no policies at all in some cases) which serve to cement the status quo and chip away at the "American Dream".

Despite being a professional who does "okay", my business suffers when the economy suffers, because many current and prospective clients simply cannot afford my services. My wife's non-profit work won't get any easier, either, though hers is an exceptional situation, involving many who are essentially impervious to the vicissitudes of financial markets. I worry about my kids and how long it will take to work through the problems engendered by years of poor U.S. public policy, a misguided war and a seemingly eternal game of financial smoke and mirrors which is now leading to the front door of a major economic catastrophe, with the real crisis staved off temporarily by government intervention on behalf of the most diehard proponents of a free market economy. As many have already pointed out, how can it be that our government decides to help bail out an investment bank while sitting idly by as thousands (soon likely to be millions) of Americans lose their homes thanks to deceptive and predatory mortgage lending practices, practices which have contributed significantly to the problems the government is trying to control (since "solving" them is beyond the pale). As if we needed any further evidence of our government's true priorities.

Going back to the beginning of this post, I sincerely believe that we exist in a collectively weakened state - fueled by financial insecurity and a heightened sense that we are in constant danger of outside attack, and are thus so focused on "getting by" that we cannot muster the personal, political and moral will to speak out and declare - in a loud, unified voice - that the status quo is unacceptable. Granted, a lack of courageous political leaders is part of the problem, but a great society cannot allow its fate to rest in the hands of a few elected officials. People make leaders act; rarely is it the other way around.

Okay, so maybe I lied, and this is one tiny, hollow-voiced call to action, or at least to think for a minute about the big picture and what we Average Joes & Janes might do about it.


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