The Economy: What Do We Really Want?
A short blurb in today's (10/27/09) Wall Street Journal stated that home prices rose in most major American cities in August. This is cited as evidence of a recovering economy. But what does this mean and is it something we really want?
Perhaps you've noticed that prices at the pump are going up. Since this indicates demand for fuel has increased it is also touted as another 'sign' that the economy is rebounding. So, we have rising home prices and rising energy costs. Traditionally these indicators lead everything else which means we'll be seeing rising costs across the board. And this means the economy is rebounding?
I'll be the first to admit that once again, my raise at my job was an embarrassing joke. And even though it is called a 'merit' raise, my supervisor apologized and tried to make everything better by informing me that due to deflation the cost of living is actually lower than it was last year. Sorry, but, wrong. I'll bet than I'm not alone in what is obviously a long term era of wage stagnation.
So, we have costs going up as a sign of a reviving economy while wages are flat since the cost of living has gone down. And while I'm supposed to be happy that the economy is recovering, to tell you the truth, I hope it doesn't. If the only fallout from an improving economy is rising prices, since this has already been predicted to be a jobless recovery - whatever that means - then I don't think I want a better economy. In fact, I can't see that an improving economy helps anybody except the people who already have most of the money. Sure, the wealthy complain that they pay 90% of the taxes, but they seem to forget that they control 90% of the money.
I think it's time for the world, and especially America, to rethink what we mean by a growing economy. If it means forever escalating prices and flat wages then it isn't really helping anyone. At the same time, government mandated market controls and other draconian measures, that have been experimented with at length in various countries, always lead to disaster. So what can we do?
The US economy is driven by consumerism, which is why the Bush/Obama bailout is doomed to fail. It doesn't address the underlying flaw in the American economy. A flaw which is based on neither our government nor our economic system. It isn't even related to our political system - though both parties tend to make it worse in their own way. Indeed, the fatal flaw in the US economy derives from a growing problem in our society. As long as people determine the value of another person based on purely material criteria our economy will continue to sputter. And you see it everywhere.
The beautiful woman is able to rise to economic security faster and more assuedly than the unattractive woman either through marriage or preferential promotion. The wealthy man progresses more quickly up the ladder as a result of his houses, cars, and golf clubs. The children of wealthy parents secure coveted spots on sporting teams. Attractive babies get smiled at more often. Wealthy children get selected for better schools and colleges. None of this is a secret which is why the beauty products business is so ubiquituous, parents engage in unethical behavior to secure preferential treatment for their children, and people will lie, cheat, steal, and do anything, to win. While I'm not so foolish as to believe that people haven't been doing this since the dawn of time, I do know for a fact that the depth to which it penetrates society varies enormously.
For 200 years America's trump card was Christianity. But not because God was biasing world events in our favor. It was because the Christian behaviors of moderation, charity, mercy, honesty, self-sacrifice, and tolerance - the classic virtues - greatly favor the performance of an economy simply because they smooth the interaction between people. It makes for good business. God doesn't even have to exist for this to be true if enough people believe it. Indeed, these are the same reasons that any culture rises to prominence - and there have been many non-Christian cultures that have shone brightly. And despite the negative view Christianity has taken of these cultures, from Ancient Egypt to Rome, it was these very virtues that worked in their favor.
But as the prevelance of these behaviors begins to fall in the general population it begins to impact the economy. At first it isn't noticeable, which but encourages more people to abandon virtue in favor expediance. This is called the slippery slope. Once you start down that path it is very difficult to climb back up. In fact, history shows that it is impossible. At some point, as more and more people abandon virtue in favor of hedonism, especially those who control the wealth, society will collapse and the economy will follow. It might not happen over night, but it will happen. I think this is where we are in America today.
Do we want the economy to recover? Who does it benefit? Answer these questions for yourself and you may see that the slippery slope isn't a slippery slope anymore but a cliff. The edge draws near. What choices will you make today?