Elements for a New Economy

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on November 20, 2008

Perhaps the shadiest aspect of this unfolding “bailout” saga is the clarity of its existence juxtaposed against the vagueness of any direct benefit to the common good. Notice the convenient lull of an election — now transition soap opera — interruption which temporarily stuffs it behind campaign cholic, giving it just enough time to simmer. We’re now in the normalcy-of-crisis mode. We didn’t forget about it, but it dropped a few notches on the priority totem pole since we’ve been a bit entranced by the election of firsts, curled into the sleep that is pop culture and our daily grind.

Still, with it rearing its unforgivably ugly head — a jobless claims rise with volatile fluctuations in the market — the euphoria of the election is cooling a bit, the expectations mounting on the new president to deliver something, even if he’s still in transition.

Thing is, our mad cool-elect (confidently strutting like modern Shaft aside the lame-duck during his recent White House tour) doesn’t want to claim this mess just yet, preferring to let the current “decider” ride out the full length of his legacy. Refusing to attend the G20 summit “send off,” he opts for the incessant speculation and sprung leak distractions of possible cabinet picks, taking the transition in calm stride. He’ll have enough to worry about on January 20th.

Of great concern is the way in which the bailout seems designed to avoid any focus on what we always thought were the economic fundamentals — or at least what they force fed some of us during college indoctrination. But, check how it fakes any acknowledgment of mass consumerism, small business and manufacturing as core support systems. “The banks can do it, slick,” is the resounding mood of the current Administration, their version of “socialism” soaked with laissez faire and hook-up. “Bailout” seems such a played and trite term — much like “flip flop” is or any of those other pop 10 favorite news sound bites that never give you the full context of what’s up. Cats are getting hooked up, fam … in a fairly big and ostentatious way. Translated: we’re getting played.

One can easily bristle and shoot back with “Well — do you have any other ideas?” That’s the rock and a hard place question. And we can probably talk till we’re purple over the traditional friction — as old as the country itself — between banking and old fashioned manufacturing. And while the banking and insurance institutions appear to hoard taxpayer cash for the long haul of low confidence, core industries such as auto are on the brink of going belly-up, risking the fate of 3 million plus gigs.

But, if you bailout… (cough) excuse me — hook up — the “Big 3” autos (who could never seem to catch up with competitors), where does it stop?

Not professing any kind of expertise on economics, friend, but we can (at least) agree on the basics: that we’ve been sucked into a sucker’s conundrum whereby three quarters of the economy is driven by consumer spending. Simply put: we can’t stop buying. Our survival depends on it. The lack of spending will only continue to show in the worst way.

So, let’s admit, a reasonable “big idea” alternative to the “bailout” plan is in short supply. Our imagination these days only goes so far as what fixes we can buy ourselves out of. In desperate times we reach only for the most desperate of measures: more money. Should that mean we lose all sense of common sense?

This might be a ripe time to recalibrate our collective social construct on the subject. The time for a balance. In reaching this point of instant gratification with no investment, we’ve seriously compromised our ability to innovate and build. What else explains the rationale that saving the banks first is the key? Forget any ambitious plan to revise research and development or a mission to completely resuscitate American education.

On the real: why not? Crises, historically, also bring out the best and brightest in the human collective, and there is a hidden, yet gem of an opportunity to bring back the ingenuity that has defined the best moments in American history. Perhaps we pull back on this now embedded reliance on accumulated credit and debt, and instead focus on a fresh age of vocation mixed with intellectual, technological and manufacturing enlightenment. Even as the economy sputters, there is also this Science-channel inspired, HGTV-backed “DIY” or “do-it-yourself” movement on parallel resurgence. Simply, more of us appear inclined to do the “dirty work” by either making it or repairing it ourselves. Why this is a fad rather than the norm it once was escapes some.

Beyond that, it’s also a key to renewed interest in and hope for reviving national education. Or, perhaps transforming it into something other than a mad rush to comply with standardized testing requirements. The president-elect already expresses distaste for the television viewing habits of our youth and we stare back as if stupid to what that means. What it could mean is a renewed focus on putting our national minds and hands back to work, re-crafting public education with a focus on vocational education and specialized sector schools designed for students with specific interests and talents. Throw in small-to-large business sponsorships and internships for high school kids, and perhaps a long-term funding stream for health care drawn from sales of product. Why not take those school woodshop classes to the next level? What’s stopping high schools from creating early architecture, engineering or environmental science incubators and using those as platforms for core industries? Here we might find the foundation for a new economy, professionalizing our youth in preparation for tomorrow’s economic and environmental challenges. Mixed in with compulsory financial literacy and civics K through 12, it may not be so much of a “New Deal” as it would be a sense of national commitment and community service. And we might actually save quite a few cities along the way.


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