Friday, December 26, 2008

Be Good and Grow Rich: Reversing the Economic Meltdown

Frank Kaufmann

December 23, 2008

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Albert Einstein

Why is it that suddenly everyone seems lost. Only weeks ago, the pantheon of cable news finance wizards flooded our lives around the clock with pride, bluster, and "expertise." And while they frothed and “explained,” lust and frenzy infected world markets like bone cancer. A financial world was built with bedrock institutions packaging, selling, and buying less than nothing.

When natural laws of economics finally tore though the mirage, financial meltdown fell on us like a flesh eating virus that continues relentlessly and with a vengeance. Extreme responses arose in all sectors with leaders scurrying about like those on the deck of the Titanic hit. Makeshift measures to stanch hemorrhaging in this spot or that were passed in panic, but none brought about a settling, stabilizing, or passing of the storm. We wait with baited breath to see if, when, and how great the carnage, pain, and suffering finally will be. Fully one third of savings have evaporated.

Those working on fixes are not working on a level that matches the depth and nature of the crisis. Everything that breaks does so because essentials are violated, basic elements collapse under the strain. Analyses and proposed remedies must start with clear-headed investigation of what fundamentally broke. What was violated? What snapped? What basic laws and rules were stretched to the breaking point?

Current recommended remedies stem from and remain mired in this mentality of violation and untruth. The slide will pause now at 35% loss, giving us the opportunity to awaken, change, and begin to recover. If we do not acknowledge what we have wrought, the economy will drop its next third, leaving none from this generation to see recovery.

3 sectors are responsible for failures comprising the global economic crisis, the business and financial sector, the political arena, and the media. Great wrong, great greed, and great dysfunction took place under the watch of each of these 3 sectors, each having failed in their respective responsibilities to be sure that such things never happen. The reform of the economy cannot be achieved through the application of mere “economic” fixes. Recovery requires reform, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, taking responsibility for harm done, and commitment to change in each of these three areas.

The economic crisis happened by violating two basics: 1.Self interest cannot evolve into greed to the degree that personal, material lust is sated without regard for the human condition of “the neighbor.” 2. Production and consumption may not persist in a manner and degree that outstrips nature's capacity to repair and rejuvenate herself. The economic meltdown is not merely the fruit of greed. It more accurately occurred through the the deadening of the heart.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, almost 1 billion people suffer in this year's global food shortages. The number of undernourished, the FAO said, rose by 40 million, following a 75 million jump the previous year. This is simply forbidden. Prosperity and suffering in such magnitude are not coterminous.

Growth of value (perceived by many as growth of capital) cannot continue unchecked when doing so is happens in ways that violate basic human norms and morality. The meltdown will not relent nor subside until approaches at resolution address real causes. Lust for personal profit and consumerist excess may not be sought in anti-human and anti-environment structures and patterns.

The way to genuine recovery, growth, and the return of wealth will come to enterprises oriented specifically to the causal factors of the meltdown. Industries that fit this bill will experience genuine growth and profit. These will produce jobs and wealth aplenty. On the other hand, proposals based on the persistent breaking of natural rules and rectitude not only will fail rescue the economy, but will drive the meltdown further. If we snap the 35% loss barrier through obstinately not learning, the collapse will become irreparable.

What is needed now for recovery is the very opposite of current approaches seeking desperately to resuscitate over-heated, self-gratification, and debt-fueled consumerist materialism.

Real solutions that will turn the tide to recovery will be led by industries and entrepreneurs devoted to the restoration of balance in human affairs, balance such that acquisitiveness is no longer admired if it fails to be coupled with minimum concern for vast numbers of suffering people, the millions who starve and die without hope. Industry that retools itself to create opportunity, housing, education, and work for the needy will prosper.

Secondly, everything entrepreneurial that is devoted to restoring nature's capacity to repair and sustain herself while keeping apace with non-excessive human consumption will prosper.

In short, consumption, growth, and wealth are fine. But gluttonous, consumerist materialism cannot be celebrated and encouraged 1. while able-bodied men and women with families cannot eat or lead lives with minimal opportunity and dignity and 2. when consumption happens in ways that break mother nature's ability to repair herself and sustain environmental balance and health.

In the present moment, industries designed to fix these abuses and violations naturally will inherit and enjoy the privilege of growth and profitability.

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