Sunday, October 12, 2008

For Answers to Our Busted Economy, Take a Hard Look in the Mirror

Republicans will tell you at every turn that Democrats facilitated this economic disaster, never mind that it was Republicans running the show and its president vetoing any dissent for the past seven years. Democrats will remind you we had a surplus in 2000 when Clinton left after two terms, leaving out that he opened Pandora’s box when he allowed company mergers to run amuck during his era.

The Feds will swear it was Wall Street greed and financial gurus will say Alan Greenspan was in denial about the early signs that “Free” credit for all wasn’t such a hot idea. There’s truth to all of it.

And during the last stretch of this election campaign, both candidates treat the voters like we’re abuse victims. Truth is we’re not. Whether we care to admit it or not, the time has come to own up to our part in this mess.

To be fair, we didn’t ask to be scammed into subprime loans that would eat up our savings and force us deeper into credit debt to keep our homes. We didn’t realize that when they started outsourcing those computer company help desk jobs to India that we’d soon be seeing IT jobs and most middle class technical jobs go along with them.

To be honest, it was something we could have seen coming had we not fallen prey to the lull of complacency and empty consumerism. There are too many stories of people who should’ve bought the smaller starter house, but went for the 4 bedroom mini-mansion instead. And this mentality of bigger is better, spend now and worry later permeated into much of our purchasing decisions all across the board.

We used to be proud of making smart purchases, but in the 1990’s we were living in hog heaven. Who wanted to be sensible we had spending money itching to be spent? During that time of financial prosperity, internet companies promised big profits and it seemed like technology was spitting out sexy electronics by the second. Cars were getting bigger, houses were flashier and we were giddy. We partied like it was 1999 but like the pesky guest that never leaves, didn’t want the party to end after long after 2000.

Which made us ripe for the picking. While we camped out in long lines for Apple iPods, Microsoft Xboxes, Razor and iPhones; while we threw out perfectly good TV’s to get the next sleek two thousand dollar flat screen panel of the moment (and its obnoxiously loud sound system), there were some serious clouds gathering overhead.

We were so busy being such good consumers we never once peeked up to notice that yes, something is wrong when it was too easy to get a credit card with a $20,000.00 limit and that even teenagers could get credit cards before they could even score jobs to pay for them. When the president threw $600 rebates at us like pigeons at a park, we ate it up and looked forward to seconds. It never occurred to us to ask: what did we cut to pay for those rebates?

After Hurricane Katrina, we felt awful but not enough to wonder if maybe their infrastructure failures might be a sign that our cities were also in danger of corroding bridges, roads or other lifelines in need of constant maintenance now neglected so we can have meager tax cuts. Soon after hospitals in cities began to close and teens graduating high school faced college tuitions that cost as much as a luxury sedan for just one year of education. And still, we never raised an eyebrow. Because as long as it wasn’t happening in our homes, we could pretend it wasn’t a problem.

Sure there was a big war to finance, but one in a country that had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us. Still we asked nothing of the administration milking billions from us to continue a fight that has cost us more U.S. lives than the ones lost in the September 11 attacks while the ringleader Al Qaeda remains at large—in a whole other country.

Back in Iraq we keep fighting; first for weapons of mass destruction that never appeared and then to “liberate” the Iraqis and bring them democracy. Have we asked how much democracy our money and our soldiers’ efforts has brought? We hear about the soldiers we’ve lost on our side, but find a news outlet that covers the death toll we’ve brought to Iraqi civilians. You won’t. According to the site Iraq Body Count, that number today stands between 88,269 and 96,356.

How much of this financial and human loss could have been averted, had we the people, the true bosses of the American government, stepped up and said Enough?

Now, as that American dream of the white picket fence and the house behind it crumbles around us, as jobs have disappeared so quickly to outsourcing and shoddy corporate business plans, we stand amidst the rubble around us. What now?

I see people waking up from the hangover now, much more sober than in years past. In a year where one campaign has garnered strength from a message of hope, I hinge my own in the wish to see us get back to questioning our leaders, no matter what side of Capitol Hill they sit on. Our economy used to buy us choices and better options for each generation. It’s about all we’ve got left to protect, so let’s wipe the crust from our eyes, take that aspirin and get back to reminding our government they work for us.

We may be done for the count in the Superpower department, but it’s not too late to revive a pride in creating instead of consuming; of solving rather than squandering and of investing in our future instead of into trends. In the new world economy those who have assets have something to work with; those who have debt have nothing to bargain with. And we should know; we once were the best at that game.

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