Facing the Music, and Not Forgetting

This post is going to ramble a bit, but it’s about the economy and our places in it.

Facing the Music

Ignorance can be blissful.  By turning off the seemingly relentless stream of bad news about the economy and the job market, we can pretend all is well, or at least OK, especially if we happen to be among those fortunate folks who are gainfully employed.

But if ever there was a time to pay attention to the world around us, this is it.

For example, here’s an Associated Press piece speculating, not unreasonably, about whether this recession is on its way towards becoming a depression, not as bad as 1929, but qualifying for the “D word” nonetheless: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090302/ap_on_bi_ge/the_d_word.

Even if we’re not heading towards a depression, some knowledgeable folks are forecasting a deep, lasting recession.  Economist Nouriel Roubini, who was tagged as “Dr. Doom” when he predicted the current crisis over a year ago, says in an interview that we’re in the midst of a rare “synchronized global recession” that could last for 36 months:  http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/article/197164/Even-%27Dr.-Doom%27-Is-Scared-Economy-Much-Worse-Than-Roubini-Predicted.

New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt wrote this about the economy and job losses (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/business/04leonhardt.html):

What does the worst recession in a generation look like?

It is both deep and broad. Every state in the country, with the exception of a band stretching from the Dakotas down to Texas, is now shedding jobs at a rapid pace. And even that band has recently begun to suffer, because of the sharp fall in both oil and crop prices.

Last Sunday, the Times ran two pieces that no doubt caused shudders among its core of upper middle class readers: “Forced From Executive Pay to Hourly Wage” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/us/01survival.html) and “Boomers in a Post-Boom Economy” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/fashion/01generationb.html).

Three years ago, personal finance magazines like Money and Kiplinger’s were running cover stories about how to invest enough money to live the good life.   Now they’re writing about how to rebuild broken nest eggs (from Money: http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/23/retirement/retirement_rescue.moneymag/) and how to cut daily spending (from Kiplinger’s:  http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2009/02/save-fifty-a-day-and-feel-no-pain.html).

Even the lefty In These Times offers advice on savings and frugality, with a progressive political spin: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4249/all_consuming_poverty/.

Individually, we may be in a position to take steps to better secure our own financial situations and those of people closest to us.  But if we want to affect the bigger picture, we must be engaged, involved citizens as well.  This is not a time to be looking purely inward.  The old labor adage of hanging together or hanging separately certainly applies to the times.

Not Forgetting

Last year, as the economy as the fall political campaign launched, the economy began to tank, and corporate bailouts were on their way to become standard practice, Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel blogged about poverty in America:

www.thenation.com/blogs/edcut/349350/taking_on_poverty_and_inequality

www.thenation.com/blogs/edcut/366649/bailing_on_poverty_and_ordinary_americans

The upshot of these posts, as Vanden Heuvel wrote on on Sept. 30, is that “too little attention is being paid to the real struggles of ordinary people and the human costs of our inequitable economy.” 

As the meltdown and recession have ripped through the home equity, retirement accounts, and job security of so many people who, one year ago, anticipated a decently secure future, the plights of the working poor and the truly destitute have become even more invisible on our everyday radar screens.  And yet, as Leonhardt noted in his Times column,  “recessions exact the biggest price on the most vulnerable workers.”

After all, Kiplinger’s advice about how to save $50 a day and “feel no pain” may be useful to some people, but for many others it is literally impossible, unless going hungry and skipping rent payments are viable ways to “feel no pain.”

True, even periodicals such as Business Week are talking about capping the pay of corporate CEOs:  http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_07/b4119000763155.htm.  However, debating President Obama’s proposal for capping pay at $500,000 for CEOs of companies that are receiving bailout monies is not the same as examining the ongoing and deepening challenges facing the poor and others who are struggling to make ends meet.

It’s really difficult, as middle class aspirations and hopes are being tempered and shred, to remember that for all too many, poverty is a way of life, recession or not.  At a time when fiercely free market CEOs are demanding bailout monies in the billions from the federal government, we must insist that an economic “recovery” that stops at the middle class is a morally inadequate one.

I’m not an expert on economics or high finance, and I won’t pretend that this modest post contains any golden nuggets of economic policy advice.  But I will urge dear readers not to turn away from the gruesome news about our economy and to participate as citizens in the discussion about how to reverse this dire state of affairs.

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