Monday, March 30, 2009

The Recession as Sporting Event

It is almost a cliché right now to write a column about the difficult economic times. Everyone has done it. The news broadcasts and papers can hardly go a day without leading with some more grim news about unemployment, down turning markets, corporate bonuses, or federal deficits.

One sad thing about all this is that it begins to sound less real the more we hear it. Worse than that, by showing it on television, it becomes a kind of perverse entertainment for the majority of Americans who still have their jobs, houses, and SUVs. Oh, they may worry about keeping those things, and they may cut back on spending, but truthfully, a whole lot of people are not really hurting all that much and many will be able to weather this storm without too drastic a life style change. I just read a newspaper story about families struggling but also finding the money to send children out of state to summer camp. That’s not poverty but inconvenience, and it is dismissive of those who really are facing a financial or housing crisis.

When the children no longer have cell phones and the house cuts back to basic cable (or better yet, no cable), that’s when it starts to hit home. Yes, I know how embarrassingly wealthy that means we really are. But instead of counting our blessings, we grouse about the villains getting even more, with bonuses that seem to reward incompetence and companies being declared too important to fail while our neighbor is being put on the street.

Let us all declare a moratorium on the grousing, shall we? It is not helping your neighbor’s foreclosure situation or you brother’s job loss. Yes, we should be angry, and yes we should change the laws that made all of this almost inevitable. But we all should have remembered pharaoh’s dreams, handily interpreted by Joseph. The lean years are going to come from time to time, regardless of who we have to blame for them. We should get ready for them.

Credit card debt was never a good idea, except for short term emergencies. The stock market was never supposed to provide a quick investment return. Adjustable rate mortgages were a bad idea when they surfaced in the 1980s and they burned buyers then. Why did they look better now? And subprime loans were just irresponsible from the get-go, for both the lender and the buyer.

The Christian response to difficulty has always been to go out on a limb and place our trust in God. Yes, planning and saving for the future is a good idea. So is paying off debt. But so is giving of your time and money to help out those who really have been hurt by this economy. If you are not going out to the movies so much right now, you have a few hours to give to volunteering. A couple of extra cans will hardly break your food bill, but they can certainly keep someone else from starving. Many communities are rehabbing existing homes that have been foreclosed and making them available for lower income families; it’s cheaper and faster than building new ones, and greener too.

This is not “Go out and spend,” a sad leftover from the last administration. It is go out and help. Go out and make a difference. Go out and change someone else’s life, not just your own. Go out.

The temptation is to ride this out at home isolated from what is happening if we are able. That is exactly the wrong way to respond. The recession is not a spectator sport or a dark television comedy. What is happening to too many people is real, and if you are not one of them, don’t sit on the couch doing nothing. Get involved.


Jane R said...

Have a look at this week's The Nation. Very interesting article related to this. I'll find you the link if you can't get it. It's the piece by Gary Younge (hope I got the name right).

Jane R said...

P.S. I forgot to say thanks for your reflection. Also, the whole issue of The Nation is particularly good this week. There's an excellent piece on Caryl Churchill's controversial new play and a fine one on El Salvador's elections. Also a piece on coal which I haven't read yet.