America is giving us the impression that it is a bit cash-strapped (understatement). Americans are feeling poor and are thinking the feeling is not just a feeling; it is a reality, a reality that will last for a while. Every day feels slightly gritty, cloudy, gloomy, uncertain.
We have been bombarded with warnings about our rising debt (now that the deficit has gone down). We are given a constant case of the guilts about continuing to fund programs that we believe assist Americans when they fall on hard times, and we are informed, without any tangible proof, that when we assist the “poor” we doom them to eternal dependence. Would we fall prey to this unsupported reasoning if we were not feeling poor?
The message that America can no longer afford to support us when or if our fortunes slip (or never existed in the first place) is just one more disheartening proof that these are not times of plenty. Some of us remember what times of plenty feel like and this is not it.
The crunch in Washington may be manufactured or it may be real. It is very difficult to tell because the state of the economy and the pursuit of austerity are such political footballs. We have a Congress that won’t act. But at the local level we are definitely feeling the pinch and it seems real enough. There is no splash to our dash these days. Although there are still people who seem to have plenty of money, those of us near the poverty line find our financial state feels precarious. With a bit of inflation we could find ourselves unable to afford even our current lifestyles.
Can we trace some of our other rather stingy levels of compassion to our fears about our personal finances? Is the fact that we are nervous about America’s economy messing with our ability to be tolerant of the needs of those we see as “others”? Is there truly not enough to go around? In times of plenty it is quite easy to be magnanimous; in times of scarcity, not so much.
America does not produce enough; we don’t hum with productivity any more. We have businesses but we are not rich in commerce. We are not bustling. Some tell us that if we make taxes lower and salaries lower our factories will come back to us. We have already bent over backwards to be nice to corporations, to stay in their good graces, so much so that it seems as if most corporations pay no taxes to the Federal government and, in some cases, the government actually pays them in subsidies. If corporations won’t do business here with all these enticements I doubt that we can sweeten the pot enough to get them back. If we beggar ourselves to get them back then they will be justified in treating us poorly.
If money is slow and business is slow and we can only go forwards and not backwards it creates a lot of pressure on us to be the world’s innovators. We don’t want to follow; we like to lead. But innovation is a fickle get. Sometimes one new thing follows another in a brilliant combustion of positive energy. Other times, like now, some key new factor of invention seems missing or hard to coax forth from a secretive universe.
We are marking time right now in an age between ages or in a new normal that will ask us to live simpler, slower, less flashy lives. I would say to those with all the bucks that if you like a world that feels lively, healthy, progressive, and safe you should be lining up to rewrite the rules and let some money trickle down before it ever trickles up to line your pockets, because then you become convinced the money belongs to you and you refuse to part with it.
If you insist on hogging all the money at the top then you must get used to a dull, skimpy, listless, jealous, suspicious, dangerous, crooked America. However, we can’t help but wonder, is our poverty real or legislated?
By Nancy Brisson
Here is article that came to me this morning in the Brookings Brief: