Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Real Problem With The Economy

Happy Veteran's Day to me and all the other Vets out there.  Thank you for your service!

Last night as I was driving home, I heard this interview on NPR.  Paul Auster has a new book out, and it's about, amongst other things, home loss due to foreclosure. 

I'd been thinking about the economy again during my ride home.  It's something that I, along with many of my fellow Americans, think about a lot these days.  And something the author said during the interview hit me square in the chest. 

Auster says that home is a place where you should feel absolutely safe. "It's the place where you don't really have to defend yourself," the author says, speaking from his Brooklyn brownstone. "I think that's the idea everyone holds in his head, is that this is the place you are welcome no matter what you've done, no matter how rocky things have become for you. And unfortunately not everyone has this refuge."

And I got it.  For the first time I could put into words why we as a nation have gone from hopeful to perpetually anxious in the last nine years.
We don't feel safe

Too many CEOs enhance their profit margins by cutting jobs instead of, oh, I don't know, making something good.  And we're complicit in this one too - cheering as our stock value rises, even as our colleagues are packing up their desks.  It's just business, right?

We don't feel safe in our jobs.  It's no longer a matter of how hard you work.

Too many of us have watched someone go from the top of the world to the bottom.  One of my colleagues watched his neighbor, a highly paid exec, lose his job, be out of work for 2+ years, and then the house, the retirement funds, all of it - because few, if any, of us can last forever without income.

We don't feel safe in our homes.  It feels risky to have a mortgage, it's just one more exposure.

Too many of us have watched our 401ks and IRAs lose value, or just hold steady, over and over again.

We don't feel safe for retirement.  It's almost certain that a huge percentage of the population will not be able to sustain themselves.

In short, the places that are supposed to be safe are now areas of deep insecurity. 

I grew up poor.  Subsidized housing for the first few years of my life, actually.  And it has far-reaching impacts on many areas of your life when you grow up without.  

1 in 5 kids right now is growing up in poverty.  The impacts, both long-term and short are well-documented. Being hungry or cold or perpetually worried shortens the focus.  Instead of keeping one's eyes on goals, one's eyes become focused on much shorter term things- enough clothes, enough food.

In short, survival.

When you are focused on survival, it's hard to think about things like getting an A on the test.  Long term life success is out there in the future - it's not like today.  Today is now, present.  We want kids focused on their future?  Keep them warm, well fed and safe.  You want to sustain the arts, build America's scientific acheivements, create a strong job market?  Keep kids warm, well-fed, and safe.  You want everyone to be able to stand on their own two feet? 

KEEP KIDS WARM, WELL-FED AND SAFE.  It really is that simple.  Until we figure out how to create a sense of safety and well-being for our society again - not just optimism for the middle class, but optimism that one can rise out of poverty, we're going to be stuck here, in this rather unpleasant place of worry, fear and insecurity. 

No one wants to see their hard-earned money go out the door.  I've yet to meet a liberal that thought all the social programs were particularly well run.  But I've yet to meet a private interest that didn't have it's own agenda or set of preferences in dealing with people.  We need to figure out a way to invest in our future, which might just be heat, hot water, soap, food, abuse prevention, a winter coat, a safe place to live, and a lot of hugs.  No, I'm not just idealistic.  If you want long-term strategic thinking from someone, they have to be able to focus past the immediate to move on to the long run.

Some individuals can do that without the things listed above, but that doesn't mean that they are stronger or better than those who can't.  It just means that there was some external or internal force that helped them along. 

We need to figure out how to make our current population of adults feel safer in their jobs and homes.  But until we figure out how to do it for the kids in our world, over the long haul, we're not ever going to feel safe again. 


Eric B. Schultz said...

Glad you added this to LinkedIn! Some great articles.

Ms.Moneypenny said...

Glad you found your way over!