Confronting Recession Confusion

A friend told me that recently -- suddenly, almost in a panic -- he had decided to sell a collection of baseball cards accumulated since childhood. The reason: He was worried about the recession and the economy.

It had struck him that if he didn't sell quickly he might not get anything for his cards. (In his rush, he took $2,000 for the collectors' items. Had he waited, acting more carefully, he said his cards might have been worth twice that amount.)

Aside from the odd fact that many Americans seem willing to spend more for "collectors' items" than, say, shelter for the homeless, my friend's panic reflects a vague, nervous uneasiness about the state of the economy which many people experience. It also reflects our lack of real information and understanding about what may happen to us as unemployment increases.

Above all, our uneasiness, I believe, is a reflection of our common lack of perspective on overarching economic issues, what they mean, and how people committed to democratic values should think about economics and our own activist possibilities.

The conventional media discussion of the recession presents economics as an odd hybrid located somewhere on the news between the weather and the stock market. On the one hand, there is very little one can do about it; on the other, the jumble of statistics on unemployment, growth rates, inflation, durable goods sales, housing starts, and inventories is sprayed at the public in a manner that leaves the average citizen numb: If the war is short (some think), the recession will end. If it is long (others think), it will not end. But still others reverse the argument.

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