Monday, February 18, 2013

The Human Cost of Maintaining Our Economy & the Creative Challenge to Change It

Contrary to some modern myth-making that suggests our economy was created organically by ‘market forces’, (or 'blessed' winds of fate) the economy we find ourselves in is the one we have created for ourselves.  

If it were a purely free market capitalist system, we would not have government financed assistance programs for the aged, unemployed and disabled;  and if our economy was engineered exclusively by socialist dictates,  the ‘super-wealthy’ would no longer be welcomed here, and the ‘horse-trading’ of our basic living commodities, including money itself, would not be tolerated.

We have a hybrid system that combines elements of a variety of economic practices and social ideals.  

Which is my point: it’s an amalgam, and a peculiarly American one that we have collectively created over time. As such, does it directly reflect our attitudes about how an economy and nation should function?

To me, it seems there is a fundamental contradiction between the values most Americans maintain and promote, and the economic system we find ourselves in. On the one hand, when there is a major catastrophe taking place in the world -- be it an earthquake, tsunami, or other form of natural disaster – Americans, through their government and individually, are usually the first and most generous providers of aid. 

Even while, at the same time, there exists an ongoing tragedy of catastrophic proportion taking place right here in our own nation, affecting the lives of one out of every six Americans. It’s a problem that we largely ignore and deny, squabble over briefly during election cycles, but do nothing to fix: domestic, American poverty. And the real potential social, political and economic cataclysm is that it’s getting worse, not better.

Right now, there are more than 40 million Americans living at or below the official threshold of poverty; that’s nearly 20 percent of the population. These are the highest rates of poverty since The Great Depression; and, from the 1990s until the present, the most dramatic reversal of fortunes in our history.   

If you’d like to throw around a political football trying to guess at the causes for this dilemma, go right ahead. But the fact of the matter is that this crisis is devastating the lives of millions of Americans, and at the same time depleting the government’s financial resources and helping it to rack up unprecedented and arguably insurmountable debt.

So who or what is benefiting from this socially bankrupt and financially bankrupting situation?

Statistics bear out that it’s the wealthiest Americans who are benefiting the most by owning larger and larger portions of the nation’s economic pie.  Plus, recent judicial legislation has virtually allowed the wealthy to own politicians outright.  The system is, undoubtedly, a mess. And, during this particular swing of the political pendulum, political and economic power appears to be moving decidedly in favor of people who already own wealth.   

But the wealthy do not as yet live here by themselves (or with the rest of us in debtor prisons).
This, I feel, must make one wonder whether or not the wealthy know how the rest of America lives? I would argue that a central reason why the problem of more and more Americans living in poverty is being ignored, and is persisting and growing worse,  is that most wealthy Americans are oblivious of the devastating effects living in poverty has on their fellow citizens.

One reason for this – despite the fact that anyone who has not been living in a cave knows about the glaring growing disproportionate gap between the poor and wealthy in America – is that no one,  rich or poor, wants to be reminded of it all the time.

Another reason, I observe, is that we are becoming an increasingly segregated population: the ‘haves’ are safely ‘gated'  in communities among themselves, while the’ have-nots’ flail around where and if they can. For the most part, wealthy and poor Americans live in separate worlds within the same nation. This is not a successful blueprint for maintaining a healthy society, democratic or otherwise.    

I propose that what is needed are not more stats and facts on the issue, or political discussions, legislation,  and 'resolutions'; but more real human interaction with one another and increased actual interface with the problem.

How do we do that?

 First, it starts with individual initiative. Whatever your view is on the subject, express it. If enough people agree with you, that will then lead to group endeavors and eventually the formation of a social movement. This is also something Americans do peculiarly well:  we are very good at expressing ourselves individually, and creatively, and in the process setting in motion movements that in time lead to progressive changes in our society.  

I believe that the social movement of our time, the one that affects more Americans than any other, is addressing the issue of the increasing numbers of Americans living in poverty -- before the problem expands, destroying us individually and socially and bankrupting us financially.    

If you agree (or disagreed) express yourself!

(One small way that you can begin to express yourself is to review the following petition:)

Help  Reduce Poverty & Homelessness

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