We Need to Do Something Radical to Break Out of Our MalaiseNews at Home
T.H. McGraw attended Temple University, has written for Astronomy Magazine, Stocks and Commodities Magazine and articles for The History News Network. He has traveled extensively in the U.S. and over a dozen countries including China's New Territories.
Who hasn’t heard the urban legend of Queen Victoria, or alternatively Eleanor Roosevelt, graciously replicating the faux pas of an unschooled formal dining guest whom, after accepting an after-dinner finger bowl, mistakenly but happily drinks from it? We might imagine a slight hush falling upon the entire dinner table, all eyes moving toward their beneficent hostess and then in great merriment, diners reaching one-by-one for their own containers of petal-strewn water in order to concur. Noblesse oblige and, for the transient moment if not for all time, humane wisdom becomes intensely correct.
If only all life were so, so easily charitable. These days, we may struggle not to focus upon the dark clouds swirling about us; moreover, the awkward division between those doing well through discipline and perseverance, and those disenfranchised so much by loss of employment or in some cases assuredly, by just plain sloth. “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground…” the Hebrew Scriptures convey to us Jehovah’s judgment upon the original couple in sin, though I was advised once by an Israeli that another translation renders even “…the sweat of your nose…”, a more severe depiction yet of possible retribution for mankind.
Certainly with time and learning, many parts of the world have enjoyed considerable abatement from the burdens of subsistence. There have always been gradations of poverty, but today in most cultures, we can see those at the very bottom doing far better than in past millennia. In easily found Greek Scriptures we can read “Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value?” One could be forgiven for having difficulty in visualizing such a tiny protein contribution in a meal today. Too, there seemed very little charity for anyone of ancient times who fell through the cracks.
Why then such great expectations by the poor for relief today? In addressing this, we might need for a moment to repress polemics and view mankind’s situation in abstract. There has been dissent over the times, revolution, populism, social experimentation. With today’s technological gains come increased social expectations. Advances in communication facilitate comprehension across class lines of the ubiquitous material benefits—or their lack thereof. Modern socialism seems to have over-expanded segments of population by political largess and without practical foresight or moral restraint. Monetarism has brought about dissipation in our currencies. Fiscal misfeasance has induced excesses in the extension of credit which one has difficulty even imagining as ever being “wholly” repaid. We are not unfamiliar with the issues.
Political convictions aside, there will be no quick fixes here. The Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East gave rise to great contemplation of better living conditions in those geographic areas. Can one reasonably expect increased investment or prosperity anytime soon in these afflicted areas lacking stable governments or infrastructure? Henceforth, even greater social conflict or military aggressions may well arise.
Military supremacy to the rescue? Someone recently commented in hindsight, that the U.S. could hardly have offered a greater “gift” to Iran than the destruction of its arch-enemy Iraq. Do most people believe Iraq is pretty much up and running now? “Nation building” via military occupation in Afghanistan seems troubled—even reminding some of Vietnam. Is such gloom intended to frighten people?
Just because we know rationally that civil disorder is counterproductive to “better living” does not exclude it from possibility. I will spare the reader statistical-spin and refer to widely published information. We read recently from FBI sources that U.S. crime was on the downswing last year. That’s good. The nature of crime it seems to me, is becoming more and more violent and cold-blooded; crimes against children more prevalent. Higher unemployment can only worsen the issue. Nostrums for job gains are normally applied at the very top; banks supplied with more capital for lending, corporations given greater subsidies, corporate leaders given decent capital gains taxation and the like.
I will not digress from our hoped-for abstraction here to question traditional remedies. I will also grant that paying off everyone’s delinquent mortgage would surely be inflationary and destroy housing values for years to come, even if such a concept were possible in today’s economy. Neither would giving every citizen $10,000, as was rumored by a certain country. I will however submit, that if U.S. workers, both middle- and lower-class, are not soon gainfully employed in productive fields, there will come a dark shadow on the land that we will be unable to reverse in a lifetime.
Only beginning now do we hear suggestions to remedy global trade inequities that have lead to the loss of more than three million jobs in the last decade. Certainly, billions of dollars have been produced by globalization; trillions lie offshore awaiting an agreeable corporate tax treatment before return to domestic corporate coffers. The problem is that such dollars have profited far, far fewer than they could have benefited, and damaged many in a permanent and harsh manner. What price must yet be exacted from America’s laborers in the contest against offshore environmental abuses, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft and widespread foreign workers poverty? An earlier essay of mine, “Mysterious Forces,” offered some rebuttals to the tariffs-caused-the-depression misconception. True, selective tariffs based upon “level playing fields” might begin as somewhat inflationary as they repress the dumping of foreign goods made by under-paid workers, but domestic labor will at least then have increased income to buy U.S. goods. True, there are other concerns attached to tariffs; likely reciprocity, but time is fast running out for conventional solutions.
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