Thursday, February 12, 2009

Manifest Destiny (or, How I Would Fix the Economy)

The last 4 economic/housing "fixes" under Bush ($1.7 tril) and the current one under Obama (0.8 tril +/-) all have made me cringe (best word I could come up with since I used the bile/urp image in my last blog, and I don't want to wear it out--you need to keep a good metaphor in reserve for when you really REALLY REALLLLY!!! need it so people don't think you are an alarmist...yes, I'm making fun of the "fixes" even in this parenthetical remark).

So, I have been asked confrontationally, "Mr. SmartyPants, what would you do?" Having no training in economics whatsoever (like most of those spending our tax money), I feel eminently qualified to opine on this. So here it is:

1. I wouldn't "fix" anything by throwing money at it. The current problem is the result of a total concert of greed and corruption by a major part of our fellow countrymen. The best "fix" for addicts is to let them experience the consequences of their behavior, and make amends as they work into the character and fabric of their lives what they learn from their moral failings.

2. The government should set an example of fiscal discipline rather than further speculation. The goal should be to immediately cut spending beneath revenue income, so that the surplus can be used to pay down the debt. This is exactly what most of citizens need to do with their mortgages (and other debts): cut expenses and pay down their principal so they are not "owned" by a house that is worth less than the mortgage.

3. This may be the only way to cure the White Collar Welfare Class we have created with the last 4, almost 5, "economic cures." Oh so many moneyed people waiting "in line" to get their housing fix...while the former "welfare class" (of the rhetoric, anyway) finally gets to buy some housing they can afford--a real upside in this iceberg stricken Titanic of an economy.

What would happen as a result of my "fix"? (1) The stock market would rise and fall continually like it always does. If it happened to rise on the day I announced my fix, I would claim, "Stock Market Rebounds on Dodd 12 Step Program for Addicted America." If it fell, then I would claim that it had no relation to my fix. :-) (2) We will persist in a muddle-through recession and recovery (and, as every "fix" has acknowledged, things will get worse before they get better). (3) Housing prices will stabilize once two things are absorbed: (a) existing and coming foreclosures; (b) the 3.5 million homes builders overbuilt between 2002 and 2007. (4) Perhaps--hope always springs eternal for me with this--just perhaps, we would wake up from our mammon-driven stupor and come to our collective senses. Or, at least, maybe many in our land would start looking Up for solutions instead of all around.

"Manifest Destiny," the land-grab doctrine that drove out the Native Americans and rationalized the Western push is written deep into American DNA. Like alcoholics, you could almost say we are genetically predisposed to the greedy-gonna-get-me-mine-no-matter-what-it-costs-someone-else. Until we "take the cure" for this, there is no fix for the mess we are in. We gotta start thinking about someone else for a change. (Yes, I'm entirely aware that this kind of talk could get me voted off the island).

"A wise man builds his house on the Rock," not on the sea of shifting sands of economic uncertainty.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

La Esperanza De La Gente

Don’t ask me where I’ve been, but I saw this picture for the first time on the back of someone’s car yesterday and it was like someone body-checked me, real hard (a hockey metaphor for my cold weather friends—supposed to be back up to 80 this week in Orlando—oh, the suffering…). I got something stuck in my throat as a result, a little like déjà vu, but more like bile.

This picture of Obama with the word “HOPE” underneath took me back to a hat I got in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip 7 or 8 years ago. It had a picture of the winning presidential candidate with “Hippolito, La Esperanza De La Gente!” (The Hope of the People!, for those of you, who for some inexplicable reason took Latin or French to meet your language requirement in school). Back then, I remember thinking (no kidding), who would be so stupid to fall for such a lame line as that?

But in tough times people aren’t thinking with their brains. It is probably a much more reptilian kind of response born of being evicted from their home, or watching their retirement account become an “I hope I can retire some day” account, or waiting for the layoff notice, or coming to work and getting the pink slip, or fending off calls from the bill collectors (50 calls a week can put a lot of pressure on a person), or hiding their car from the repo man so they can get to work the next day, or ashamed and alarmed that they can’t buy a birthday present for their child’s 7th birthday, or wondering how they will pay for the cancer treatments since they lost their health insurance when they lost their job, or watching our “boys” (now should we say “boys and girls”?) coming home from Iraq with body intact but brain turned to mush from an IED, or watching their company’s or their bank’s stock swirl around the bowl like so many others of late, or because they are sickened to think that our national deficit went from $5 trillion to $12 trillion in the last 7 years (from record surpluses) and is heading to run up the score with no 15 run rule like they have in softball to stop the game.

There’s a whole lotta hurtin’ going on. Desperate people need something, and they go looking for it. So, why not a Harvard educated, constitutional scholar with exceptional thinking and speaking skills, and political instincts to match? Why not hope in him? Well, that is the interesting part of the picture/bumper sticker. Can you see the clashing color cultures of the BLUE and RED parts, like I do? As it turns out, this bumper sticker is not merely propaganda, but perhaps an accurate artistic/prophetic rendering of where we are.

Da Blue Dudes know exactly why they are excited ’bout ’Bama. Whether or not his economic fixes work, ’Bama is not ’Bush. The logic is totally compelling to them: “Why do I hit my head against the wall? Because it feels so good when I stop!” 1/20/09 was much anticipated, and McCain/Palin (particularly the Palin part) did not feel like a stopping the beating of the wall with the cranium. Arguably, the Bush admin was the most corrupt of all time, so even a morally murky mind could throw stones at him.

The Red loyalists are playing their part of being “aginners” agitating and undermining, throwing sticks and stones, and flexing what little muscle they have (riding the wave of public sentiment that can’t stomach more spending when we still haven’t gone shopping with a full $350 billion of Bush’s last economic fix, and no one has seen anyone bring any bags home with the first $350 billion that was spent). Their “hope for the people” is a sudden renewal of fiscal conservatism and “spending discipline” (which they didn’t exercise when they had both houses and the presidency for most of the last 8 years). I like fiscal conservatism, but having watched them for most of the last decade I wonder if they remember how to blush. The Red / “Christian” loyalists have their own moral take and remain—against the evidence but consistent with their political tunnel-vision—convinced Bush was a great man, and that Obama is going to hurt all their moral causes—no question there.

I have no doubt that the political story of the next 4 years will be divisive, not uniting. It will be the political version of the aftermath of the O.J. trial, but instead of being divided almost absolutely black and white in our view as we were then, now we will divide even more schismatically red, white and blue. Unfortunately, the party "spirit" is alive and well.

A friend snidely said to me this week, “Since you don’t agree with anybody, what’s your idea?” I had to laugh. Too true, but not so much. Anyone who knows me knows that I am actually quite narrow in my thinking, as I remain a radical follower of Jesus and his teachings (Red Christians don’t get this, but Jesus’ teaching is why I can’t sign up for their political pushes). I seek to conform to His teaching, obeying and not just pondering His views.

In response to my last blog (“Is Obama the Antichrist?”) I'm good with what laughingjulia said: "An underlying reason for people's trust in princes is 'trusting in what is seen vs. what is unseen.' As humans we delude ourselves to think trusting in man is easier to do than trusting in a higher being. We become 100% dissatisfied with the results, yet we continue to believe in men. Our dissatisfaction creates other sin such as anger, discord, division, and slander. Jesus asks us to follow him, however narrow and rocky the path may be."

My feet are on the Rock, my name is on the Roll….don’t need no political princes since I’ve got me a King who asks for my devotion not my vote. On paper, yes, I’m a natural born American citizen (registered independent). In my heart, my citizenship is in heaven. I am waiting and hoping on a Savior who is coming from there.