Economics

It's the Equality, Stupid

... that quaint period, the thirties, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them, or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy. —Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie (1945)

Have we learned the lessons of the Great Depression now?

We are once again, in Tennessee Williams’ memorable image, having our “fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.” And the reason is that many of us have, once again, “failed our eyes.”

The lessons taught to the socially and economically sight-impaired in the 1930s have been forgotten or willfully denied, producing conditions in the present decade very much like those in the 1920s that led to the Great Depression. In the ’20s, as in recent years, tax cuts for the rich, in combination with anti-union practices and a lack of regulation of markets, yielded increasing wealth inequality. The extreme gap between rich and poor meant that more money went into speculation (by the rich) rather than consumption (by everyone); consumption is what keeps the economy healthy. Mass consumption and the economy were propped up, but only temporarily, with an unsustainable amount of consumer credit—until the speculation bubble burst and the credit ran out in 1929.

Who most completely failed their eyes? Who are those responsible for creating the conditions that led to the economic meltdown that began in September?

Fundamentalists.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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This Is Not About the Economy

Made you look. Anyway, the world economy continues to spin downward despite my previous column on the subject, which was intended to bring needed comic relief to struggling world markets. Unfortunately, their dour assessments of the future prevented them from just tossing back their heads and letting go with a hearty chuckle. So I say, “Why so glum, overly leveraged world markets?” or, alternately, “Laugh, economy clown, laugh.” There, that should do the trick.

In contrast, I’m sure Sojourners readers have been “keeping it in perspective” and finding humor in the common experiences of the new economic reality, such as watching sheriff’s deputies place their belongings on the sidewalk in front of their former homes. “Careful with that antique china cabinet. It was my grandmother’s. Ha ha!”

But as bad as it is here, we Americans know that things are much worse in China, a place where children go to bed every night without flat-screen televisions. (They’re on back order.)

Not to mention the other things we can be grateful for, such as our health, which at least we have, unless you’re sick. But even then there is a bright side: You may have lost your health care when you got laid off, but as temporary president George W. Bush confidently assured us, treatment is as close as the nearest emergency room. (Hint: Bring a book. Maybe two.) Like a philosopher once said, unless we stand together ...

(Editor’s note: STOP! This is not helping. There’s not enough left in my 401(k) to buy a Sarah Palin campaign mug! And I REALLY want one! So quit the false platitudes and get back to your usual drivel that, unexpectedly, we find ourselves missing right now.)

Fine.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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