Old news is sometimes still news, even when it’s almost a hundred years old. Like the news reported by British Roman Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton way back when (circa 1926), that capitalism can become a false idol, with feet of clay (to use the biblical metaphor), destined for a fall.
Part of the problem here is that economics as a discipline is so difficult (and so freakin’ BOOORING!… at least to me), that we keep going back to the same flawed models and same untrustworthy “experts” to help us out. (Like Timothy Geithner… our probable new Treasury Secretary, who may just be “more of the same“.) Why do we do it? Because at those high levels of discourse in banking, equities, and government, there’s a whole new language and bookshelf full of buzzwords that most Joe Six Packs just never get a chance to learn. The rich get richer, as they say…
Prompted by a comment on Marking Time, I just re-read my analysis of Chesterton’s distributist idea (sort of a “share the wealth” system, though not of the socialist variety). And even though my piece was written during the presidential campaign last February (before the full economic meltdown, in other words), I find it’s another bit of old news that still holds water. Plus my original post also now has an extended dialogue in the comments section about the relationship between religion, politics, ethics (with abortion as an example) and economic choices. And the commenter led me to read a useful two-part blog article (which I don’t entirely agree with, but am intrigued by) on distributism and the current government bank bailouts by noted sci-fi author and essayist Jerry Pournelle.
Meanwhile, headlines on CNN.com and its sister sites today reveal the utter economic mess we’re in (the world… not just the U.S., let’s not forget):
1) Bank bailout could cost $4 trillion – a “fun”, fact-filled ride through the thin air of international and national monetary policy, with the story’s main source being Simon Johnson (formerly chief economist with the International Monetary Fund… not exactly known for its fairness or accuracy on the international stage, so let’s consider the source) . Johnson, on his blog Baseline Scenario, suggests that:
” The most likely outcome is not a V-shaped recovery (which is the current official consensus) or a U-shaped recovery (which is closer to the private sector consensus), but rather an L, in which there is a steep fall and then a struggle to recover”.
I get a headache reading this stuff… but I do it so you don’t have to, my dears. On the plus side, Baseline Scenario also offers a beginners’ economics site, called Financial Crisis for Beginners . Despite assuming that “profit” and “growth”– as measured strictly in money, not quality of life– are all that matters, the site still does a decent job explaining the roots of the present crisis, and potential moves toward solving it, like learning from Sweden’s recovery in the 1990s.
2) Recession realities: Back to school – as seen in severely-depressed Rhode Island, it’s a phenomenon I’m seeing firsthand, in teaching at a “career college” like Westwood College. But re-training people who in some cases were not stellar students the first time around is not an automatic road to middle-class prosperity. Certainly people can grow, and a money crunch is a severe, useful motivator. But many of those personal wounds and class-based issues remain entrenched, so some career-changers may not get far enough up the new road they’ve chosen to take. Have you looked at what a Certified Nursing Assistant makes compared to a fast food counter worker? There’s not a huge difference, really.
3) Missing hedge fund manager surrenders – okay, so they’re finally prosecuting the frauds, catching a few of the Madoffs or criminally insane CEOs of the world. But who’s going to fix the SEC itself? Who’s going to fire the shortsighted financial analysts and self-involved brokers who helped put us into this mess (not all their fault, since the tree is rotten at the root as we’ve said, but still…) ? And who’s going to pay back those millions that well-intentioned investors are seeing disappear into the ether?
I could go on all day, …but then again, I can’t. I have a day job to get back to, which is what these modern-day pirates, profiteers, and lazy legislators are counting on to distract me when they pull the next bait-and-switch — one that will likely cost me thousands of dollars or a great deal of stress next year.
Strap yourselves in, people. Obama or no Obama, it’s gonna be a long, bumpy ride.