Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maybe This Recession Thing Isn't So Bad, After All

I don't mean to minimize the difficulties of tens of millions of Americans. Unemployment, debt, foreclosure, bankruptcies, homelessness-- these are all terribly and frightening things, and the small solace that most of those Americans, likely even some of my readers, will get through it and put together some sort of life afterwards is near-meaningless in the torrent of collection notices and dwindling bank statements.
Believe me, I've been unemployed, sometimes for years at a clip, thanks to Reagan and Bush. I've lived off credit cards, slept in my car, begged borrowed and stolen to get by.
Paul Krugman writes today about the darkening of America. In an effort to save money, municipalities and states are starting to reduce street lighting, are tearing up paved roads and returning them to asphalt, and making cuts to education, mostly because Congress refuses to return taxes on the wealthy to Clintonian levels.
Anyone who's read me for more than a week knows I'm all about the class warfare. I'm unafraid of that label, anymore than I am unafraid to be called a liberal. All men (and women) ARE created equal, and it's only the dint of luck via the genetic lottery, the state lottery, or the creativity lottery that some are more equal than others. While that needs to be applauded, it also needs to be taxed. Those who take the most out of society ought to be the ones to put the most back in, and clearly, drawing wealth out of the economy should be duly taxed, especially on businesses that incorporate.
Perhaps, though, some of these dire scenarios Krugman points out are blessings in disguise. For instance, take gravel roads. Those might force people who go out and buy a new SUV every two or three years to stop and reconsider that choice. After all, who wants gravel popping up to scratch your new paint job? Too, it might force people to rethink moving to remote areas, and to create communities out of closer in ex-urban areas. You know, where they might work, in an office park, one they can walk or ride a bike to. 
Surely the foreclosure market has forced people to stop building McMansions on postage stamp sized lots and to learn to live with a little less space, maybe combining the den and the living room into one, or skipping the second guest bedroom. Maybe you don't need that wine chiller. A decent rack in the basement and your refrigerator will suffice. 
In short, maybe the conspicuous consumption of the past forty years will finally crater in on itself. Maybe we'll have fewer commercials for Botox, and people will remember the joys of aging gracefully (says the 53 year old man who has managed to avoid wrinkles and laughlines but who has lost most of his hair and what's left is solidly gray). Maybe people will carve out a corner of that backyard and grow some vegetables and remember the taste of real food, not the salmonella-laced bags-o-salad that they pick up three for five dollars at the Piggly Wiggly. 
And a darker night? Maybe that means more people will be able to stand in a park and look up at the sky and watch nature's beauty unfold tonight and tomorrow morning. Maybe they'll go out and buy a modest telescope or pair of binoculars to watch the skies. Maybe they'll start paying more attention to the beauty around them as the cable gets cut, and the TV goes dark. Maybe people will take the hint and instead of lighting up their homes like Times Square, they'll light a candle or two and have an intimate conversation.
You know, talk? 
And maybe, through all this, we'll gain a deeper appreciation for the people around us in our community, in our schools, in our cities and towns, in our states, and in our countries. It's no accident that, when recessions and depressions hit America, we turn more progressive. We're all in this together and the white collar worker who loses his job stands to suffer as much and maybe a bit more than the laborer. After all, he has a lot higher board to dive from. 
And who knows? Maybe once you and I can break bread in a park together and toss crumbs to the pigeons as we hash out the world, we'll both realize that, white or black, left or right, we have more in common with each other than we disagree on? And then, once we see around us the way Congress has mollycoddled those who have and want to keep while we go without, we'll get angry enough to take our country back?
Or, maybe Fox will come up with another mindless TV show that we turn on and swallow the subliminal messages from.