I think it is always useful to see the threads connecting what might seem to be things that happen independently. The big picture is this: we live in a dysfunctional economic system which has created the greatest divide between rich and poor in a hundred years--and that is a global point. Here, for your consideration, are three strands--which you can add to.
Hunger is at record levels:
With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.[emphasis added]
Let me underscore this: in the richest nation in human history, one in four children live in families that cannot afford to buy them adequate food. Pause for a moment to consider that.
As for shopping [The Wall Street Journal]:
Many more shoppers turned out for the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season over Thanksgiving weekend than a year ago, but they spent less each and favored lower-priced items.[emphasis added]
And over in Dubai, from the Financial Times:
How exposed the world’s financial system is to Dubai’s debt woes remains unclear. Large banks have been keen to play down their exposures. But even after the announcement on Sunday of liquidity support from the United Arab Emirates central bank, fears of contagion and a broad shift in global market sentiment are taking root.
"It’s a much bigger story than most investors are willing to let on," said Gary Kleiman, of emerging markets consultant Kleiman International.
So, how are these connected?
We got into the short-term mess we are in--short-term, meaning the past few years--because we let a small group of greedy, incompetent financiers, backed by policymakers around the world, build a disastrous pyramid scheme. The scheme was built on hype and inflated egos and unsound economics--and Dubai is just the latest example of the destruction.
And it should put to rest any thoughts that the "green shoots" are here, that we are out of the woods--this is just another tremor of a whole series of tremors that will continue to shake the global system. We are not even close to being out of the woods because the system is still choking on the trillions of dollars in foolish gambles made.
And that is one reason people won't open up their wallets. Now, there is a good argument to be made against shopping and over-consumption. But, that is not the point here. People can't spend because their credit is gone--no more plastic and no more home equity. Poof. Empty. Done.
And that is the product not simply of greed over the past few years but the final act in a 30-year process where people worked hard but wages stayed flat. Paychecks just did not grow to keep up with the cost of living--rising health care costs, to give just one example.
And for those who say people bought McMansions, please. You don't get to the immoral picture--in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA--where one in four children need food stamps because people lived in luxury. Recite that once again: ONE IN FOUR CHILDREN are on food stamps and would go hungry but for that government support.
So, we cannot work ourselves out of the mess that we are in until we have a serious debate in the country about the economy--a debate that we are not having. Until we are willing to face the incredible contradiction that we produce plenty of food in the country yet one in four children need food stamps to live and, but for the government, millions of children would starve in this country of the rich and bountiful--we cannot fix our country.
Until we are willing to be clear that we cannot have a privately-owned government--populated by elected representatives who, because they are awash in corporate contributions, do the bidding of the people who created pyramid schemes and looted the bounty produced by the the workers of the country who did not get their fair share--then, we can not have a vibrant economy.
Until we return a sense of fair play at work--meaning, if you work hard, you get a decent wage, health care and a pension--then, we cannot claim to be the strongest economy in the world. A "strong economy" is not measured by statistics of Gross Domestic Product. It is measured by the shared prosperity of the people. And, friends, when one in four children would go hungry but for the government, we are no sharing prosperity.