Archive for the ‘great depression’ tag
If Democrats had doubts about the outcome of the presidential race before Election Day or if the Republicans held any optimism that it would go in their man’s favor, both were about as deluded as Karl Rove proved himself to be late Tuesday night when he was refused to believe that Obama had won in Ohio:
When it became clear about midnight that President Barack Obama was safely on the way to re-election, a handful of cranky and inebriated Republican donors wandered about Romney’s election night headquarters, angrily demanding that the giant television screens inside the ballroom be switched from CNN to Fox News, where Republican strategist Karl Rove was making frantic, face-saving pronouncements about how Ohio was not yet lost.
Back in reality, where fewer of the Republicans seem to be living these days, no comfort zone existed with regards to Election 2012. Here was a president who took the reins of leadership as the economy was on the path toward fast-track, financial entropy. Call it economic heat death. The real estate heyday was over. Bank executives had made millions in bonuses without having to be held accountable for speculative loan practices. In response to the recession, Obama passed the most expansive piece of financial regulation reform since the Great Depression, as well as an $800 billion stimulus plan to try to kick start the economy. Economists have said that even amid these sweeping reforms, it was not enough (and here) and that we could have done even more:
Nonetheless, it worked. In addition to all that, we finally got a sweeping health care reform bill that had been a vision of progressives for at least 40 years, if not more. Oh and by the way, Osama bin Laden is no more.
So, I would like to meet a Republican who seriously — seriously — thought that Romney had a legitimate shot of winning this election. Yes, the GOP made inroads in certain pockets of the country, but couple a dull candidate who mostly failed to portray himself as someone who had everyday Americans’ best interests at heart with an incumbent who accomplished more in his first year than most get done in four, and Romney didn’t have a chance in blue hell.
Browsing CNN’s Web site tonight, I came across this column from Bob Greene, who opined that those who lived through the Great Depression are owed an apology from “the rest of us.”
They don’t deserve what they are going through. You hear it again and again from money experts: Take the long view of the economy. If you don’t need cash from your stock market accounts in the next five to 10 years, leave it in there. Time will heal our current woes — the economy, even when it’s in tatters, runs in cycles. Just wait it out and be patient. Especially young people — fiscal stability will arrive again in your lifetime. You’ll see.
Nice words. Yet they leave out that one group of people — the people who have a right to be terrified when they are told the economy will only be brutal in the short term. They leave out the people to whom the short term is all they have: our parents. Our grandparents. The men and women who never should have had to worry about their personal security again.
First, I take exception with Greene’s premise that “the rest of us” owe the folks who lived through the Great Depression an apology. No. Those individuals and companies who engaged in bad bets, those who were financially moronic enough to take on loans they knew they couldn’t pay back and the banks who supplied them, perhaps, are the ones who should be doling out the apologies. To say everyone should apologize to older people who lived through the largest economic demise in our history, without a shred of evidence to suggest the Great Depression generation is suffering anymore than anyone else, is flawed reasoning.
Second, experiencing periods of financial hardship — and financial gain — is a part of life. Why should these folks never have to “worry about their personal security again?” Whichever worldview one takes, I can show we aren’t living in an idealized society or universe. If one takes the Christian view (which seems to be the default here in America), these folks, along with the rest of us, have much to worry about because, of course, as doctrine teaches, this is a fallen world and events do not play out to our liking. In fact, based on evangelical viewpoint, events play out to an increasingly sinister plot, where evil reigns and where God, who for reasons we can’t rightly figure out, either has no desire to intervene, can’t intervene or simply will not, has called his son to eventually take those who have accepted him home, thus rescuing them, based on their faith, from eternal judgment. Amid this cosmic struggle for our souls, our finances is hardly a primary focus.
Or, if one doesn’t believe, here’s the alternate viewpoint: These folks should have to worry about their security as long as they are alive because there is no rhyme or reason to the universe, this country or its finances. Thus, personal responsibility and smart decisions should be every person’s calling card.
We didn’t realize that they would be asked to do it again, in 2009 — we didn’t realize that our parents and grandparents, the vestiges of their retirement income suddenly diminished and threatened, would be asked once more to stoically accept hardships they had done nothing to bring upon themselves.
Really? Again, there is no evidence presented to suggest that at least some or a few of the folks who were alive during the depression were not involved recently in some subprime or market dealings. This source suggests seniors today are doing OK financially:
“Even in their current precarious state, it is important to note that today’s seniors are better prepared for retirement than subsequent generations will be,” said Tatjana Meschede, lead author of Living Longer on Less: The New Economic (In)Security of Seniors, a just-published report on the SESI. “They have benefited from pensions, jobs with significant retirement benefits, and a stronger social safety net than subsequent generations will enjoy.”
But Greene retorts:
Think of the disdain they must feel for the Wall Street titans who have hurt them [Who hurt others as well!]. When they hear about a brokerage executive who spends $1,400 on a wastebasket, their first thought undoubtedly is not that the man has taken advantage of his shareholders, or of the federal government.
This is likely a disdain for how any person making less than, say, 50k feels. Putting aside the fact that he is making a lot of assumptions about what a particular person might think or feel without himself being omnipresent or omniscient, Greene concludes:
All that the oldest Americans asked for, in their final years, is a sense of safety, of stability. Twice in the nation’s history, they knew what it was like to go to sleep night after night with their stomachs knotted in fear. What we as a country owed them was nights, at the end, when they never again had to feel that dread in the darkness.
Now they are feeling it, and there is nothing that we — their sons and daughters, their grandsons and granddaughters — can do to convince them that their fear in the night is groundless. What they are being forced to go through now is — in the most elemental sense of this word — a shame. I hope they know how sorry we are.
Did he ask anyone specifically whether all they wanted in their final years was stability and safety? Logically, there could be a rebel senior out there who still likes to ride the financial roller coaster every now and then. There’s no need to blow it up or blame it on the collective whole.
But back to the point, in short, what seniors are being forced to go through now is what all of us are being forced to go through: a fluctuation in the world and national economy and an event in the thing we call life. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not God playing dice; it’s not financiers playing devil’s advocate. We don’t owe anyone anything. It just is.
Thomas Friedman’s Feb. 24 New York Times column from South Korea read thusly:
For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown. All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.
It seems there comes a price with all those years spent touting America as the world leader in well … everything, from economics to military might to democratic freedoms. Many of our leaders (i.e. Carter, Reagan, Bush version 1 and 2, Clinton) have led the charge in spreading democracy abroad, regardless of whether the people of the receiving countries desired it or not. Since the years following the Great Depression, our country’s pendulum has swung upward economically and in world influence. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (OK, taking over a country and by brute force leading that country toward democracy when no one asked for our help probably is a bad thing, but I digress …) as long as we are willing and able to meet the challenges that come with such responsibility.
Or as Friedman poignantly quoted in his column a “senior Korean official:”
“No other country can substitute for the U.S. The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”
Is this a scary thing or a positive? At face value, it’s a touch scary. We aren’t exactly the most progressive country (though we seem to be increasingly headed that way, paragraph 6) in the world if you think about some of our present or past ideals. Some among us, about 49 percent, according to a recent poll, favor a “comprehensive government health care system,” and 10 percent would like to see such a system with “limited” government. The Obama administration, perhaps and finally, may be able to get this done, but what of the last few decades?
Just yesterday, I spoke with a man whose wife was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS. He has liver cancer and chemo was ineffective (and actually made his condition worse). He is waiting on a transplant. He can’t work, can’t pay the bills and he’s taking care of his wife by himself, when someone should be taking care of him. He’s behind on his mortgage and is near foreclosure. Universal health care could help these folks at least be able to not worry about the medical stuff and focus on making the house payment, buying food and the like. Or, perhaps, Obama’s housing plan could provide similar relief. But our love affair with big business, pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying efforts have proven our idealisms are, or at least have been, ill-conceived.
We were one of the last to jump off the “slavery” ship (Most developed European nations abolished it before us, including Russia, France, Denmark, Sweden, the British Empire [except in some colonies], etc.) After that, the country limped through Reconstruction, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings and segregation before finally deciding that our black fellow-countrymen were actually, and not just in writing, our equals. Further, it’s well documented that we aren’t exactly trailblazers when it comes to education either.
So, I think there’s many areas in which, in fact, we aren’t leading and have lagged behind ideologically. Militarily, of course, we are leading, and maybe this is the area that matters most. Or, perhaps our one-month sojourn under a new administration has made folks forget about the last eight years of failed policies. Lest we forget, with the exception of George Bush and his administration, many of those folks who supported those ideologies (Sanford, Perdue, Palin, Jindal and the like) are still in Congress; they just don’t hold the majority.
Make no mistake, today, this is a great nation, regardless of our previous moral lapses. But if one measures greatness by the average life span of the populous or by quality of living or by educational achievement, etc., we simply have a long way to go. Because of our military might and our insistence on carrying the world banner, folks look to us. And that’s fine. Obama seems to be up to the task. I just think it’s peculiar that given our many shortfalls, the eyes are still all on us. And perhaps that speaks even more to our standing, and in turn, our immense responsibility.