For decades we've watched passively as poor people and people of color have lost jobs, and faced a weakened net of social protection in the U.S. as the conservatives seemed to convince the American majority that the marketplace was fair, and that hence people who were not doing well had no one to blame but themselves. It was wrong to over-tax rich people, we were told, because they had taken the risk of investing in projects that could fail, so the public had no claim on their huge profits when they succeeded. The bailouts that the marketplace have required in the past, and now once again with the bailout of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, demonstrate the emptiness of this argument.
The reality? When poor people fail to flourish economically, the government shrugs its shoulders and gives a pittance of relief. But when super-giant firms fail, and the wealthy are endangered, the government, with the votes of many erstwhile conservatives, jumps to the rescue.
It reminds me of an old saying: "When is it a "recession?" When YOU lose your job. When is it a "depression?" When I lose MY job!" Too many of the people who are suffering today were all too willing to allow others to suffer when it was "just" in a community of "people of color" or people with a "lower class status." Now, they are upset when it is they who the larger society is abandoning.
Here we get to the fundamental contradiction of antagonism to "big government." The whole point of having a democratic government originally was to create an institution to provide the kind of hands-on-caring that we couldn't do if we want to keep working and making a living. "Government" then, is the institution that should be the manifestation of our caring for each other. Instead, it has been largely shaped by the interests of the wealthy and the powerful, who use government to protect their own interests and honestly believe that their own interests are the public good. And as more and more people begin to see government failing to give a real priority to being an instrument of mutual caring, they get more and more incensed at having to pay taxes for this king of reality. Unable to imagine any other reality as "realistic," many people decide that their only refuge is to resist taxation and support candidates who promise to lower their taxes. The resentment of government that the Right plays upon is based in a correct assessment that too often it fails to serve the needs of ordinary people but only the needs of the insiders and their friends.
Is is precisely in these moments that people turn toward fascistic forces that promise order and discipline and control over what seems to be out of control. If they cannot hear a reasonable and common-sense analysis of what is happening to them from the Left, they will turn toward the fantasies of the Right-- a return to less complex realities of small town America, hoping against hope for a return to the "good old days" when (in their fantasy, but not in reality) things were simpler and more straightforward and you could take care of yourself, shoot a moose or deer or buffalo for dinner, and rely on neighbors' generosity when you needed help. But don't blame this on the stupidity of the American people. They are looking for clear answers and solutions, and so far what they hear from the Democrats is confusion and an unwillingness to really confront the real sources of the problem in any straightforward way. They don't want policy wonks--they want someone to name the reality and give an ethically and spiritually coherent vision of what to do about it. Unless they hear that, they will look for others who have some willingness to present a coherent (though in our view, deeply distorted) set of solutions ...
Once again, the responsibility is on ordinary citizens to stand up and talk back to the politicians in both parties, and to do so in a way that demands a new set of values to run our economy, so that materialism and selfishness is put on the defensive and caring for each other becomes the central motif. It is only when some serious political leaders are willing to make that the center of their campaign, to demand that love, generosity and caring for others is the shaping force determining their policies, that the American people will be able to take that part of their consciousness that wants such a world but believes it impossible, and finally transcend their fears and act on their highest desires rather than sinking into the other fearful part of their consciousness that leads them to seek magical solutions in repression and denial of much of what they know about the failures of the economy and of our foreign policy..
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
From The Network of Spiritual Progressives
I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I think this is a pretty good analysis, and one which reminds us of the ethical and social dimension of economics.
Sorry for all the U.S.- centric posts lately! I know we have our own election going on. Much more to blog on, from puffin poop to sweater vests...