This story is too important to ignore. It may well shape our national economy and our national behavior for the next 20 years, and it relates to a dominant social culture that values paper profits over birds, fish, and frankly, humans.
I am talking about the Great Financial Meltdown. The expression "Private Profit, Public Bailout" expresses explicitly the causers/profiters and the solvers/victims (us) of the current disaster-in-the-making. This financial calamity may not have affected you, the reader, yet, but I do see more and more home-for-sale signs in my neighborhood and everywhere I go.
And I have heard that New York City, my home town, is one of the least affected areas in the country – so far. And, to state what may be obvious, the effects will extend way beyond the real estate industry. We are only seeing the visible top of the iceberg.
National foreclosure rates have doubled since one year ago. Debt levels are four times what they were 25 years ago (in inflation-adjusted dollars). And the full impact on jobs has yet to hit; as an analogy, even though the great crash in the stock market and the bank run occurred in 1929, the economy did not slow down dramatically until 1930.
According to Kevin Phillips, author of "Bad Money" (and other insightful books on economics, politics, and society), we are at most halfway into this financial situation. It is not "over". But I want to go beyond lamenting the seriousness of the current situation; the purpose of making the above broad statements is simply I suppose to gain your attention. Excuse me if that was not necessary, but we have here a stark case-in-point of the same forces that have been leaving our planet's health twisting in the wind for a long time, with more and more dangerous consequences as the size and automation of human society has rapidly grown in its ability to consume and dispose of natural resources. As playwrite Arthur Miller penned, "Attention must be paid!"
I watched several excellent guests tonight on the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. The last of the guests, and the most direct, incisive speaker on economics and the human factors behind it that I have ever seen, was Kevin Phillips. I will use some of his insights below, but what he said on the Bill Moyers program was primarily clarifying what I, as an observant but non-professional citizen, had suspected was going on in the financial world and in the environmental world as an expression of our growth-at-all-costs way of life.
Our nation, the United States, has fallen victim to control by the financial world. This accelerated about 25 years ago, and has continued through both Republican and Democratic administrations - yes, through the Reagan, Bush, and also the Clinton years, and worst of all, in the current Bush Administration.
The unholy financial-government complex has been marked by repeated bailouts of the financial sector such as during the Savings and Loan disaster of the 1980s (do you remember the Resolution Trust Corporation that re-funded the S&L industry? You would have to be of a certain age). This current situation, however, dwarfs that crisis in size and complexity, by a long shot.
According to Kevin Phillips this crisis may be with us for two decades. What was refreshing was that he both knows the economics and the personalities, and he does not shy away from speaking the truth. He called Alan Greenspan a key supporter of the rah-rah runaway financial-bubble-making machine from 1987 to 2006, and has similar harsh words for Robert Rubin, the Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and who now Barack Obama is using as an adviser. In fact, Kevin Phillips said that if Robert Rubin was part of the Hindu tradition he would be reborn as a pail because he has been behind bailing out so many mismanaged financial institutions.
While the same people who set the fire to our financial system currently claim we should now bail it out to avoid a worse situation, few people are pointing out that the bankers and mortgage brokers, and the derivative-makers, are all running away with their bags of money, while the tax payers, us, are left holding the (gigantic) bag. In fact, I have seen several analysts argue that the current bailouts ease the immediate pain, but guarantee a further shrinking of the middle class and a greater divide between the super-wealthy and everybody else.
And the bailouts guarantee an on-going struggle that will be more protracted than would be the case if things ran their course without a rescue by government. For example, could the banks that profited from the fraudulent and unethical mortgage loans and re-sold their bad loans to larger institutions, why could those banks not have rescued Bear Stearns and AIG? They could have.
If you saw the movie Ransom, you may remember one of the great touches was that the lead kidnapper returned at end under the guise... well, I don't want to ruin that movie for you. Let's just say that all this government bailout action should not be accepted as necessarily the best action at this time, and the hidden consequences on the economy should not be ignored and will be with us for a long time.
Now, how is this all this related to the environment? First, this Web site is not only about grass, trees, and animals. It is about our human way of life, driven by our attitudes and understandings that have such a strong impact now on our planet. My goal with this Web site is to make the planet a better, more conscious and more humane, place to live.
In addition, the current crisis is about our society's greater and greater separation from nature and simplicity, away from the simple enjoyments toward enjoyments of faster, bigger cars, more exotic vacations, and fresh tropical fruits 365 days a year. We build lofty houses out of cards and then enshrine that activity as creating wealth and building the American Dream. In reality, the House of Cards game creates wealth for 1% of the nation, and robs the dreams of the remaining people who need to work long hours or multiple jobs, just to get by and pay their bills.
This crisis is part of the perpetual growth nightmare that some thought was a heavenly dream; this crisis results from the perpetually growing economy that consumes the planet as we consume energy, travel, and dig for minerals, oil, uranium, and other dwindling resources more and more voraciously. Most of humanity is a victim of its own blind urge to grow, and as a result the planet is suffering the fever of global warming, water shortages, and desertification.
Am I being pessimistic? No, maybe not. I think we can come away from this in the future with a better society. But I am tending to believe that there will be deep trouble first, and that we may not cross into the promised land of sustainable, peaceful living for many years to come.
Despite all that, I am not down, I know that an answer lies within each of us. I only feel sad for the struggle that will be thrust on many who had no part in creating an imbalanced world, and who are not ready for the challenge. Did this have to be? I wonder. Maybe we will see a more positive trend of ethical behavior in the coming years, with a resulting more stable and humane system of economics. We will just have to wait, however long it takes.