Sunday, June 17, 2012

No solution in sight

During this presidential campaign, the million-dollar question remains:  Which of the presidential candidates will be able to fix the economy?

The short answer is that none of them -- Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul -- will.  For that matter, neither will Congress or any other lawmaking body.

The slightly longer answer, however, is that the rotten economy isn't primarily a political problem anyway -- it's a cultural one going back to the 1980s, when the nation was sold a bill of goods called "supply-side economics," the idea, of course, being that if government regulations were removed from business the economy would improve.

It didn't work, but you could argue that it really wasn't supposed to work.  Because the cultural change that it spawned proved to be "bottom-line" economics, where the focus is almost exclusively on short-term profit at the expense of long-term investment.  And that, more than anything else, is sabotaging the economy.

How so?  Well, let's start with the assault on the "welfare state" and unions, which began in earnest in the late 1970s, the former amid complaints about "big government" and the latter, corrupt union bosses.  Now, these were subject to debate; however, the ultimate goal, really, was to concentrate power in fewer and fewer hands -- in essence, to build an aristocracy.

We also saw "merger-mania," which -- far from creating jobs -- actually destroyed them, especially in middle management, which fueled the recession that pushed George H.W. Bush out the door (though Reagan should have shouldered the blame).

We now have an economy based far more on speculation than trade and manufacturing; let's not forget that the recovery that took place under Bill Clinton was largely on paper, thanks to the "dot-com" boom.  Why, for example, would drug companies make their products virtually unaffordable and health-insurance firms cut service and raise rates?  Simple -- to keep stock prices up.  (And the CEO's would be fired for not doing so.)

Anyway, look no further as to why the business community is doing virtually nothing to cause change -- it's already gotten what it wants.  That's what President Obama meant when he said, to the consternation of some of his critics, that the private sector "was doing just fine" -- it actually has a lot of cash on hand that it simply refuses to release.

A few months ago on "60 Minutes," a merchant in Iowa complained that he couldn't get a bank loan to finance his business because the banks just won't lend.  That shouldn't surprise.

Bottom line, there is no solution coming on the horizon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How to put Jesse and Al out of business

It's a matter of faith to some that civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are in fact "race-hustlers" who have made their respective careers by causing trouble that didn't exist.  I understand that.

And I'm not sure that's correct.

I say that not because I support or agree with them.  But they do call attention to an issue that some would rather drive underground -- that of an underlying racism that still affects our nation.

However, they have never operated in the South, where racism was not only open but also decreed by law two generations ago.  Jackson has long worked in Chicago; Sharpton, New York, so the kind of racism they would address wouldn't be obvious to many.  Some years ago Jackson even traveled to Peoria, Ill. to try to defuse a situation where a race riot in a high school resulted in the African-American students receiving harsher discipline than the white students.

So how do we put them out of business?  By doing the hard work of addressing issues of race.  Because, whether we like it or not, there really is a divide that has to be crossed.

Now, that's harder than it sounds, because it may mean stepping out of an ideological comfort zone.  Saying that poor African-Americans are lazy and prefer to collect welfare rather than work in fact displays a lack of understanding of that history.  It would help to abandon the talking points and learning about what actually happens.

I often tell my white conservative friends that, even in these days of affirmative action, if they and I were up for the same job or promotion and everything else being equal, on a statistical level they would most likely get it.  Racism?  Not necessarily.   But because they are white they would more likely know the people who make those decisions, and considering that 90 percent of job openings aren't even advertised, if you don't know someone on the inside you're at a disadvantage.

And that's why building intimate relationships across those lines is crucial -- but few people actually do it.  It's especially a problem in evangelical churches, where it wasn't even addressed until the late-1980s with the Promise Keepers movement (and founder Bill McCartney even said that involvement dropped when he began to do so).  That said, "my side" also needs to take some risks as well, not assuming that every person with a white skin is racist -- I grew up that way but repented in my teens.  There will be misunderstandings, of course, but doing so will take good-faith efforts from everyone involved.

One of my favorite movies is "Cry Freedom," the true story of a white newspaper editor in South Africa who was challenged to learn the truth about a black activist he had savaged.  Because the editor did and came to understand the context in which the activist operated, he eventually became an activist in his own right -- and suffered some of the same consequences in the process.

To wit, it's time for us to be willing to identify with the downtrodden.  If enough people did so, Jesse and Al might have little or nothing to do.