Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Recession: A Fable

Imagine: A father returns home from his job. A driven man, he’s created a comfortable life for his family. His family is also driven, and has done many great things with the resources he has provided for them. His wife travels to Central America every year, at the families expense, to build housing for the poor. His son, still in high school, is working with an excellent and expensive private tutor to help ensure his chances of attending an Ivy League School. His daughter is progressing very nicely with the violin lessons she receives every week.

But today, that will all change. Today, the father has been laid-off from his job. The steady income of money upon which this edifice was built is gone. At first, nothing much changes for the family. Trips to Central America , lessons and training are all placed on the credit card, which, thankfully, still works. There is no serious decline in the family’s standard of living, either. A large screen TV is purchased for Christmas, the coffee every morning is still gourmet.

But eventually, holes begin to appear in the fabric of this family's life. The phone calls begin to come. The mortgage on the house is over-due….the father has not found a new job to replace the lost income. He calls a family meeting: We must cut back on our expenses, he says, or go under.

And the cries come. “But my charity work is important,” cries the mother, “I’ve actually saved people’s lives.” “I need my tutor so that I can get in to the best schools”, cries the son. “My music is important, I have to right to fulfill my full potential as an artist”, cries the daughter.

All of this is true…but, in the last analysis, there is no more money. It is all gone. There is nothing to be done. All of these great things that we were and are doing can no longer be done,” says the father. “Not only that, but we’ll probably see some changes here at home as well- we’ll probably have to move to a smaller house, and we’ll loose most of our electronic toys- TV’s, computers, pool table- they will soon be repossessed if we don’t find the money to pay for them.”

But the family stares at the father in incomprehension…they have never lived any other way, and it is beyond them to imagine a different way of life. They continue to use eloquent arguments to justify why their activities and their comforts are absolutely necessary and beneficial…

And outside, in the cold, the wolves gather.

Okay- that’s a bit melodramatic, but I think it is an apt description of the place in which the American people find themselves at the moment. If we are to survive, and eventually rebuild, it is now time to buckle down to work AND to face some hard choices.

As a people, however, I don’t think we’ve accepted that reality and I’m not sure how we can drive the point home to ourselves.


Kate said...

alex, about your charge to "buckle down to work". i think that phrase and mindset is not at all alien to american workforce culture - AND i think that knowing what work to buckle down TO is what evades us, keeps us focused on our consumer society. you're right, something needs to change, and it goes well beyond belt tightening. a culture shift that i worry we'll never figure out.

Alex said...

I don't argue about our work ethic...(nobody in my fable was lazy)...but I think that we are having a really hard time facing the fact that, despite our hard work, we are living beyond our means...our biggest problem right now is realizing that we are going to, temporarily at least, have to adjust ourselves to our reduced circumstances while we solve our BASIC problem...the rebuilding of our broken Government.

My message is primarily aimed at those Democrats who will be passionately upset that we will, temporarily, not be able to do things we passionately want to do.

It is meant as a warning that, if we don't solve the first problem...a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, broken by the deliberate policies of reactionaries on the right wing.

I'm afraid that Democrats may not be able to steel themselves to the unpleasent reality of leaving some desperate needs unmet while we rebuild our capacity, as a society, to meet the needs of our people.