Friday, March 13, 2009

Recession: The Price of Irresponsibility

The recession, according to one economist, is very broadly based, "propelled by a credit crisis spawned by a real-estate slump,...simultaneously rooted in housing, financial services and auto manufacturing." The bad news is actually much more fundamental than that. The recession is propelled by a general lack of responsibility on the part of individual Americans living a lifestyle they A) knew they could not afford and B) knew the planet could not afford. These individuals also concentrated on their profligate lifestyle rather than overseeing their governing officials, who themselves were behaving with even more irresponsibility--playing at war, running a foreign policy they A) knew their country could not afford and B) knew human society as a whole could not afford.

Anyone still reading this post may well be an exception. I personally know Americans who have been leading modest lives within their means, trying not to destroy the environment, trying to find honest politicians to support. But it is nevertheless broadly true that Americans have been behaving with an extraordinary degree of irresponsibility on several levels. Whether it was credit card debt, signing up for a mortgage you knew you could not afford, or looking the other way while politicians started immoral wars to bring you cheap gasoline, a lifestyle of irresponsibility has defined the years of denial and protests of innocence leading up to the day last fall when the bill was finally presented to the American people.

I am not sure how many people old enough to have clear memories of relatives who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II ever got into the habit of reading blogs. The blogging generation is very far removed from generation that overcame the (not coincidental) double challenge of economic disaster and militant rightwing extremism. My own memories of family members from that generation have left me with the unshakeable impression that the Great Depression/WWII generation of Americans had a degree of self-sacrifice, patience, morality, and personal lifestyle responsibility that puts to shame the generations born since. Readers with relevant memories are cordially invited to share them.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that the way out of the recession starts with basic lifestyle attitudes. Part of that is living within your means, part of it is living a sustainable lifestyle, and part is demanding that your governing officials behave themselves in office. That last one is hard; it requires real effort to learn enough about the world to see through the haze of self-serving propaganda flowing out of Washington. I admit that the average person is simply not going to take the time to get the necessary education, but there is a shortcut: just take a minute every now and then to ask yourself, "Does it seem logical that..." You fill in the blank.

Just to get you started, a few sample questions follow:

  • Does it seem logical that Wall Street executives should, after they trash the nation's economy, be given jobs in Washington repairing that economy?
  • Does it seem logical that those executives-turned-officials should be allowed to "solve" the financial crisis by handing your taxes to their former companies rather than, say, handing it out as small-business loans or using it to rebuild American dams and highways?
  • Does it seem logical that the rich can deduct interest payments on coastal mansions used only for vacation while millions are being foreclosed from their houses?
  • Does it seem logical that SWAT teams should be sent to force a homeowner to accept foreclosure?
  • Does it seem logical that a CEO of a company that accepts Government bailout funds should be allowed to keep the millions in profit he pocketed while destroying his company?
  • Does it seem logical that the same politicians who wrote the laws allowing Wall Street financiers and bankers to create the financial crisis should be in charge of writing new laws to end that crisis?
  • Does it seem logical that a mortgage loan officer who ruins people's lives by selling mortgages based on false income data and putting people on the road to foreclosure should be allowed to walk free?
  • Does it seem logical that the only way Israel seems able to achieve security is by reducing millions of Palestinians to a state of semi-starvation and by attacking them with tanks, helicopter gunships, and jet fighters?
  • Does it seem logical that we the American taxpayers should hand Israel endless billions of dollars worth of arms to conduct those attacks?
  • Does it seem logical that a leader who lies to the people about why he is starting a war should be allowed to walk away from office without being held to account and brought to public trial?
  • Does it seem logical that the the world's last standing superpower should be able to find no way to live in peace with Muslim societies except either to support local dictatorships or drop bombs on poor villagers year after year after year?

Once you get in the habit of asking "Does it seem logical that...", you'll be amazed how easy it is to think up your own questions. And believe me, once you train yourself to ask "Does it seem logical that...", it really isn't all that hard to find out the answer. The trick of the smooth-talking mortgage loan officer or politician is to prevent you from asking the question in the first place.

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