Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beyond the Meltdown - Part 1

Part 1 of a 3 part series:

Part 1 Unity and division in the pursuit of solutions

The current economic crisis is showing no signs of going away. Already drastic measures have been taken, only to be met with erratic lurches and increased global contagion. There is plenty of blame to go around, and the willingness of many to be divisive at this juncture is harmful to all. These divisions harm chances at recovery. These divisions include partisan, US election-season finger pointing, the exploitation of resentment and class warfare, and the myopic approach to the problem through narrowly economic and political elements.

All thinking people capable of reason, uninfected by the blindness of partisan passions know that neither US political party is better than the other in terms of "goodness." We know that neither Republicans nor Democrats are more or less likely to be better human beings than their counterparts "across the aisle." The same is true on the negative side. In neither party are we more or less likely to find "worse" human beings. The difference between parties lies solely in commitment to differing political ideologies (for all sorts of reasons, some downright inane).

In any case, since the only thing you can find in a political party is people, it means you surely will find some who are thoughtful and some not, some who are sincere and some not, some who are reasonable and some not, some who are consistent, clear, compassionate, responsible, constructive, and some not. Some are greedy, devious, Machiavellian, and specious, and others not. Some are arrogant, closed-minded and supercilious, and others not. These concern being human, they do not concern whatever resulted in a person ending up a Republican or a Democrat. If the current global, economic meltdown is in anyway a result of people being "bad," then it is highly probable that members of both parties have participated in, if not perpetrated the problem.

Secondly it should be obvious to all that both parties function inside the same larger political, economic, and social system in the United States. Both parties function under or seek to bypass the same laws. They pursue identical ends (namely power), and they rely on the same lucre in their respective pursuits of power. These two political parties could not possibly approach parity, unless they are both doing approximately the same things.

These reasons above should make us leery of anyone who tries to convince us that one party or the other is responsible for the crisis. Both are very culpable, each in different ways, for different reasons, and due to different impulses, both good and bad.

Those looking for causes and solutions imagining that one US political party bears greater responsibility for the meltdown will not succeed, and given the urgency of forging an immediate and effective rescue should be chastised for sowing confusion and obstructing an important responsibility. Our only hope properly to analyze and prescribe an effective antidote is to approach the problem transcendent of partisan bias. This requires the capacity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both political impulses and ideologies so as to see how each contributed the problem, as well as to see what resources and insights exist in each party that will provide for us insights and trends for strategies that will rectify the dysfunction that now threatens the global economy.

The second divisive seduction is the invocation of resentment and class warfare when seeking to analyze and solve the meltdown. The phrase to often heard is "those fat cats on Wall Street," as though we woke up to find that a small group of people have stolen our money and kept it for themselves. There are a good many reasons that make this a false starting point for understanding economic meltdown:

Everyone has long known about executive salaries long before the meltdown, and no one had anything to say

Our own age is no different than all other ages in which the painfully rich do nothing but become ever more painfully rich with each passing moment. This is reality from time immemorial, including from ancient times, the middle ages, the golden age, and all times before and since.

Wall Street maniacs are not alone in the seeking the wild ride of free money, and they are not alone in suffocating themselves in the grotesque glut of wealth and salaries. One need think only of what has happened to entertainers, and sports figures. 50% of (or 52.7 million) of US Households owned equities in some way shape or form in 2002.

Quite simply greed and excess is not best understood or analyzed from the prism of "class." It is better understood as a pervasive phenomenon, and to the extent that the current economic meltdown results from undue greed, the problem and the cure must be approached accurately and sensibly if cures and solutions are to be found.

Again, proposals that describe the problem as originating in the greed of a particular demographic at the exclusion of others are not based in truth (or in some cases in honesty) and cannot by that very fact contribute reliably in effective and necessary analyses.

The final form of division that prevents and impedes the possibility of solving the crisis, and turning back the potential devastation of this economic tsunami might be the most crucial one of the three. This is the propensity to see the problem strictly in political and economic and terms and look only to these sectors for solutions. This can never succeed, and this must be rejected urgently. This 3rd and final division is taken up in more detail in part 2 of this series, The Nature of Wealth: What can be rescued.

Part 2 The nature of wealth: What can be rescued
Part 3 Industries for short and long term prosperity

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.