Sunday, February 22, 2009

Humility in this day and age

Humility is in plentiful supply these days. And why not, since people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and losing their sense of purpose and dignity. Us Michiganders have felt it for years now, of course, and now we stand to lose names like "Pontiac" and "Chrysler" down the giant economic drain hole.

That's humility. Now it's being felt all over.

But no matter what we learn during these hard time, it will all be forgotten in a generation. Maybe sooner, judging from the snap back to The Way Things Were after September 11. For a while there, we felt like we learned a lesson. Things were going to change. Then Things went back to normal. And here we are.

Ronald Reagan taught us to think we were special, remember, no matter how many hits to the chin we suffer. All you need is a short memory, an intollerance for intelligence or debate, and lots and lots of TV. Stir, add a little pepper, and you have that wonderful dish: Exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism, Jon Carroll says, is the excuse of dying dinosaurs:
Empires think they have beaten the rule of change. They haven't. Empires think size will protect them. It won't. Empires think military might will protect them. It won't. Empires think charismatic leaders will protect them. They won't. Nothing will. The old makes way for the new.

What's the new? Is the new America made of debt and not much else? That's all we've known since Reagan, and despite a few years during the '90s when our financial house seemed to be in order, we're right back where the Gipper put us: leveraged.

Now, to kick start the economy, our new president is forced to put us even more in debt. And if that doesn't scare each and every one of you, you're taking better pills than I am.

Have you looked through the stimulus bill? The kind of money our goverment is throwing around is staggering. For eight years we starved our national programs, and now we're replacing what was lost - but how will we pay for it all?

Democrats should fear these deficit numbers because, after all, it was their own Bill Clinton who balanced the budget. Democrats attached "fiscally responsible" to their brand, even though the GOP liked to think different. When Bush ran up the national tab, Democrats raised a hew and cry. Now Dems are spending money like it's going out of style.

Republicans should be even more ashamed: the largest tax cut in history, and the party that favors tax cuts can't complain enough. At least they pretend to worry about deficits now, instead of during the past eight years when they had access to the national MasterCard and humped it like a whore. It's enough to make you puke.

Those of us using our heads and stashing away a bit of money are made to feel bad for being frugal. "You fools," they tell us, "you'll hurt the economy if you don't spend more."

Edward Glaeser, writing for the New York Times, says so outright:
Within the private sector, as well, some should save and some should spend. Those Americans who borrowed too much, or are near their financial limits, should certainly cut back. The nation needs no more bankruptcies. Yet there are many Americans who spent the last eight years living within their means, and have plenty of resources left. For those Americans, the ones with cash in their bank accounts, this is the time to spend.

Right. So those who were responsible with their money, now is the time to go hog-wild. That, friends, isn't humility - it's the same horseshit that got us into this mess in the first place.

Is this what our grandparents faced in the 1930s - a call to spend? Did we respond to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by going shopping? Now that whole generation is dying off, and with them the common sense that helped weather some of the greatest storms in our country's history.

I hope for some Grand Realignment of our economy, one which values production and saving energy and building things, instead of just moving money around. I hope for an America that doesn't base its self worth on people buying crap they don't need on credit. I hope for a country where a bit of humility, foresight, and grit win the day.

If things turn around, I'm worried that we'll go back to our old ways and repeat this cycle, every 10 years or so, and learn nothing. Or we'll find new ways to screw shit up.

But what if things don't turn around? What will we do then? Can we get any more humble?

Will it do us any good?

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