Difficult times descending on U.S.
Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:
We are facing some painful and prolonged difficulties here in the U.S. as the true nature of the economic downfall begins to sink in. We have written before – this is not just a cyclical recession, but rather capitalism is going through a major restructuring, a new phase. It is shedding workers because it doesn’t need them anymore. It is shedding various means of production – factories and such – because it doesn’t need them anymore. In fact, these very things have become a drain on profit-making.
So much of that capacity of production and labor was at the service of the consumer economy, including real estate and those credit cards, which was fueled in the years before the 2008 collapse with massive debt. Now that that bubble has burst, now that consumers and home owners have necessarily pulled back – because of things like unemployment – we see nothing that can recreate what was a fake economy to begin with.
We also see the evidence of the restructuring in the fact that the financial sector has recovered fairly well and that weak economic growth is happening – but no recovery of jobs or production.
Friends, those that tell you we can recover by getting that economy back in gear, by getting investors to start putting money back into production so that companies will start hiring again and replace those millions upon millions of lost jobs, are either deceiving you or else not understanding the nature of the crisis.
I want to write more about this later in the week, but for now will leave three links that shed some light on what is going on. They’re all from the NY Times.
First, Jobless and Staying that Way, by Nelson Schwartz. You can hear the struggle in understanding the dynamics of ‘The Great Recession’ among economic policy people over this question of whether or not we are dealing here with a cyclical problem or with what many are calling the ‘new norm,’ a permanent or prolonged period of unemployment (officially at 9.5%, but the real figure something around 16%).
Then, Home Economics, by Judith Warner. She dismisses pretty thoroughly any romantic notion that the Great Recession will somehow recalibrate our values back to the simple, to family life, etc. Comparing that false nostalgia to the Great Depression, she reminds us that, in reality, impoverishment brings about suffering and enormous stresses on families, and that the depression was not overcome by a return to individual down-sizing and simpler lifestyles but by social policy at the government level. In other words, government has to intervene in this new era of high unemployment and savage financial capitalism if the society is to hold together.
We are not holding together right now.
Finally, this column from Ron Lieber, A Class War Over Public Pensions. He describes here a dynamic few people want to talk about out loud – that as most folks are losing jobs and security, public sector workers with generous pension packages that must, by law, be paid out over their lifetime – which can mean up to 20-30 years past retirement – are expecting the taxpayer to fund those payouts – and the money does not exist. So governments at various levels will have to figure out how to wrest money from the larger society to keep these pensions funded, and you can see the great class division developing here. By law we must pay, in reality we cannot, and the attempt to do so will increase the terrible tensions among classes already dividing us like nothing since pre-WWII.
Interesting times. How well do you think we’ll do? I am not optimistic about our society holding together as we think through the big shifts in our models of economy in a time of severe ecological limits. The overall social and political discourse remains divisive, fragmented, and inciting of class and ethnic animosities. We, you and me, our faith communities, educators, cultural workers, have got to start figuring out how to overcome that ugly discourse with something more rational, hopeful, and inspiring.
Your thoughts are extremely welcome.