Saturday, December 27, 2008

Searching For a Way Through It All

These are scary times economically. I want to believe that things won't get too bad, but it's a struggle when knowledgeable people such as Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Reich keep telling us how apprehensive they are.

Then there are the real prophets of doom such as Gerald Celente. He ominously predicts the imminent end of the world as we know it or, at least, of the United States as economic chaos inexorably engulfs us in the worst depression any living person has ever seen and produces catastrophic unemployment, poverty, hunger, and mob violence.

When I first heard Celente speak on Coast to Coast AM, I thought he was some kind of crackpot, albeit an articulate one, gearing his message to a listening audience filled with crackpots. But then I found out that respectable people take his economic and social forecasts seriously.

Then I read articles like this in Robert Reich's blog about how the leaders of the financial institutions and the "Big Three" auto manufacturers believe that our economic woes are less the result of bad business policies than they are of inevitable economic cycles and that as soon as the current situation improves, they will return to business as usual if we let them. Reich writes:
Right now, Wall Street and Detroit are willing to say whatever they need to say to keep the taxpayer money coming. But when the economy begins turning up, my betting is that their Washington lobbyists will push back hard against any major restructurings the government wants to impose on them. New regulations of Wall Street will be watered down and circumvented; new requirements on the Big Three for green technologies will be resisted.

Yet the bailouts have been sold to the public as means toward fundamental change in finance and autos. If the bailouts are to do what they're supposed to – stop Wall Street from wild risk-taking with piles of borrowed money, and push the auto industry into making fundamentally new products that conserve energy -- Washington will not only have to set strict standards now and in the months ahead when the bailout money flows, but also hang tough when the economy begins to revive.

I read things like this, and my hopefulness suffers further decline. For even if we manage to climb out of this economic mess before too long, it sounds to me as though the policies that got us here will resume, and we'll find ourselves in another and possibly worse mess before terribly long. Either that or these economic upheavals really are cyclical and there's nothing we can do to prevent them. Neither prospect instills optimism.

Yet I try to remain optimistic that, individually and collectively, we can find our way through these trying times and learn enough to prevent or, at least, delay and soften future ones. I'm looking to find my way.

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