Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are We Crazy?


Giant stone heads on the slopes of Rano Raraku are all that remain of the culture of the Rapanui on Easter Island. These heads have come to symbolize widespread cultural obsession. They stand for self-destructive excess. Like the Mayans, the Minoans, and countless others the Rapanui are no more. They are the historical Atlanteans, sunk by their own hubris into the ignominy of unexplained extinction.

We are erecting stone heads, nowadays, grander and more impressive than ever before. A few months ago Congress passed a $700 billion bailout plan, and now we are considering an $825 billion dollar stimulus package to go along with it. The voracious appetite of American consumer culture, sponsored and fomented by extremes of corporate greed impossible to fathom, has brought us to the point where we seemingly have no option but to dump everything we have into the abyss.

This is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. It is a bipartisan suicide pact. True, the Republicans are not happy with this current plan which has too much social services and infrastructure in it for their tastes - they prefer the money go directly to banks and businesses. But there are only a few lonely voices in the wilderness actually crying "madness"!

In general, I would prefer a government interested in infrastructure, and healthcare, and education, than one interested in war and defense. In general I agree with Obama that most of these areas are worth investing in, but I completely disagree that the proper response to economic turmoil is spend more money. Obama has joined right in with everyone else in Washington talking about defending "our way of life" and "securing the American dream". We are suffering from a national delusion that we are entitled to our present standard of living.

We are not entitled. We are using a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's resources and creating a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's waste. This has to end. It will end, one way or another. It can either end because we finally wake up from our insanity and begin to submit to the demands of justice, or it will end catastrophically and someone centuries from now will stand looking in amazement at the absurd stone heads we've left behind.

6 comments:

Craig said...

Aric,

We agree again. I would add to your concerns the following.

The CBO projects that the majority of the spending will not take place soon enough (2010-2011) to effect the current situation, and could actually harm any recovery that might be happening in that time frame.

Why is $350,000,000 for STD prevention included in a "stimulus" bill. Really.

I am also concerned by R. Reich and C. Rangel who would like to use this as an opportunity to stop the dominance of highly skilled whites in the construction world. One presumes that they believe that these infrastructure projects (roads-bridges) could be built by unskilled labor, scary. Rangel would also prefer that those annoying state legislatures stop trying to influence how this money is spent in their states. The nerve.

Jodie said...

Actually I think of this problem more like the problem of the airplane that landed in the Hudson.

The engines quit. What problem do you want to work on for the next three minutes? The general issue of airplanes sharing the same airspace as birds, the general vulnerability of big airplanes to birds in the sky, the lack of parachutes or something when you suddenly have no engines, the overcrowding of residential areas around airports, or trying to find the best place to land so as to minimize casualties and do it as smoothly as possible?

The economy has flamed out. It is going down. It really is. Right now we are just working on making sure as few people get killed in the process. That's all. And the jury is still out on the question. 2009 is going to be a shocking year even under a best case scenario.

We haven't begun to address how we got here, and how we prevent it in the future.

But first we have to survive the crash.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Jodie

Ideally, we would be working to survive the crash. I see no evidence whatsoever that we are doing anything other than flushing money down the toilet, however, by handing it out with no requirements as to how it is to be used whatsoever. We're making sure failed systems remain solvent and abandoning foreclosed families to the wolves.

To take the plane example - as the plan is falling, a government agent hands the pilot and copilot and a few people in First Class dozens of parachutes, all of which they keep for themselves, and everyone else makes a screaming descent to die in a roar of flames and rush of water. That's what I think, in that metaphor, our government has done so far. When asked how many mortgages $350 BILLION dollars had saved, the answer was "none". That's exactly like asking the pilot, when he lands with his parachute, how many Coach passengers did you save with the dozens of parachutes? "None".

Jodie said...

Doug,

Perhaps. I'm no economist, for sure, but I suspect that it's not so black and white. My guess is that there is an element of corruption involved and certain people are going to make a shameless amount of money out of this, but I also suspect there is some real aid involved as well. Its just not where you think it is.

350 Billion sounds like allot, but so far the government aid has been mostly to balance the books, to keep banks from becoming insolvent. I read an article that got lost amid the inauguration ceremonies that the bank problem is in the 3 Trillion range. That with 1 Trillion in assets they owe 3 Trillion in debt.

If 2 Trillion were spent to balance the books, it may not stop a single home foreclosure or create a single job. That is just what is required to keep the crash from happening. Keeping people in their homes, creating jobs, and fixing the system is above and beyond that.

But if the banking system were to collapse, then the Great Depression will seem like just another rainy day. The consequences would be truly epic.

I think the first step is going to be to spend the money. In another way to look at it, delete the money from the books. It doesn't really exist anyway. I think that is really what this is all about. Balancing the books.

Then we need to come to Jesus on the topic of greed.

Aric Clark said...

Ah, but Jodie, while 350billion or 700 billion or 825 billion won't necessarily keep the banks solvent it could absolutely save countless families from foreclosure. Instead of giving it to the banks to pay their debts we could be giving it to families. Then, even as the economy crashes, more families would at least have homes, more people would at least have shelter and not have debt looming over them. Those families might be able to scrape their way through this depression a little easier then...

In your analogy - if the banks are the engine and the engine has burst into flames and the plane is crashing... you don't climb out on the wing and try to fix the engine on the way down. You help people brace for impact or hand out as many parachutes as you can. AFTER the crash you analyze the engine and try to figure out what went wrong and how to build a better one next time.

Jodie said...

What, give everybody a free house?

You mean like, sell everything the government has, then give to the poor, and ...

What I want to know is what was wrong 3 years ago? or 10? We should be able to reset the clock to some point in time and just pick up where we were.

I really don't get economics. I'm not dumb though. I'm guessing nobody really gets it. We are analyzing it with woefully inadequate tools. My two cents.