Archive for the ‘economy’ Tag

Don’t Send Me Another Check

I don’t want another check from the federal government.

If the federal authorities wish to stimulate the economy and are willing to push the government further into debt, do it in a way that will help somebody and make a difference the grand scheme of things. Sending me—and most of my friends in the middle class—another $600 will do little good. If you send it to me I will pay a bill or two, take my family out to eat, and donate to a food bank for people who really need it. This expensive strategy did not work in the Spring and it will not work this Fall.

So if the government has money to give away, don’t send it to me; and don’t send it to those fat cats on Wall Street either. Rumor has it the managers of this trillion dollar bailout are giving enough to the banks up there so all their buddies can get a big bonus for Christmas. “We want to keep our best employees,” is the rationale—makes me want to curse. Like most ordinary Americans I am incensed that New York bankers whose sorry judgment plunged us into this financial mess are going to be rewarded through the bailout.

This is the problem of putting Wall Street bankers (Henry Paulson and his boys) in charge of bailing out other bankers. They see the world through floor-to-ceiling corner windows on the 85th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. I wonder if the committee to rescue the economy would take a different approach if there were voting representatives from Iowa farms, Michigan factories, Kentucky mines, Arizona hospitals, and Missouri schools—working people who see the world from the ground up, from the inside out.

Here is the preference of one such person: use the money to rebuild and retool America. Paying people—architects, engineers, builders, truckers—to build bridges, roads, sewers, airports, canals, levees, railroads, parks, and schools would put serious money in the hands of those who need to heat homes, buy cars, pay mortgages, visit relatives, and support the grassroots organizations that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and treat the sick.

For almost thirty years we have tried the trickle-down approach—through the years of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. Through federal tax policy we have allowed those at the top to get filthy rich hoping some of that prosperity will slip down to the rest of us. It has not worked. Yes, those at the top accumulated a lot of money, but the middle and lower classes fell further behind. Costs of goods went up; wages went down. The disparity between the rich and the poor is a serious economic and moral issue; always and everywhere it is the chief de-stabilizing factor in the human community.

It is time for the bubble-up approach. Sending a check to everyone did not work last spring. Try something else; invest in the industries that build America, that serve the common good, that disperse the wealth to the working class. Such public works programs will work now at they did seventy years ago during the Great Depression and they will leave our nation more secure, more beautiful, more livable, and more able to sustain the economic justice that is a hallmark of truly great civilizations.

Bad Moon Rising–or Not

I’m not the only one who is humming the tune and muttering the text of that old Creedence Clearwater hit “Bad Moon Rising.” The lyrics written by John Fogerty are once again the commentary of choice on these turbulent days:

I see a bad moon arising. / I see trouble on the way./ I see earthquakes and lightnin’. / I see bad times today. CHORUS: Don’t go around tonight, / Well, it’s bound to take your life, / There’s a bad moon on the rise.

This is the mood of our time.

For decades preachers have declared the decline of morals; few listened. For almost as long diplomats have described the impending clash of civilizations; nobody cared. Since 9/11 politicians have warned about the energy crisis; we packed up the SUV anyway and drove across the country. It was hard to get the attention of anybody.

But now: there is real fear of nasty weather. Or in the words of the song: I hear hurricanes ablowing./ I know the end is coming soon. / I fear rivers over flowing. / I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

I feel it in my bones. Now that the economists, the stock brokers, and the bankers are losing fortunes and losing faith we are all paying attention. Not to the things we normally do in the most pleasant month of the year: baseball playoffs and political campaigns and weekend football. We are all paying attention to our shrinking resources. All of a sudden we are glad to have a job and working hard just to keep a job. Who knows what lies right around the corner.

Yesterday the song played out in a home in California. Here is the AP press release: “LOS ANGELES — An unemployed accounting industry worker who was despondent over financial problems shot and killed his wife, three children, mother-in-law and then himself in an upscale home in a gated community.”

Remember stanza three? Hope you got your things together. / Hope you are quite prepared to die. / Looks like we’re in for nasty weather. / One eye is taken for an eye.

There is another text, though, that countermands this despair; and I quote from Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with her surging….Nations are in uproar; kingdoms fall; the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge….Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.

A musical setting of this sturdy psalm was the theme anthem at the church where I preached for six years. It still resonates in my soul, more loudly now and more frequently. Just the singing of it is a mercy and a grace. It helps me forget about the rising of the moon good or bad and give thanks for the One Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, who made the moon and the stars and the heavens above.

O give thanks to God and give glory to his name.

A Wildfire on Wall Street

The nation—and perhaps the world—is the on the brink of an economic meltdown. The only solution is an infusion of cash from the federal government. This is what we are being told by the economic deciders in New York and Washington.

Not so fast, say observers on main streets and college streets around the country. These are poorly managed companies; their suffering is the result of bad decisions; let them reap the whirlwind.

I am not an economist so I am not in a position to judge.

But it does remind me of another debate that rages under the radar of public interest and media attention: federal policy on wildfires.

Two years ago I spent several days in Yellowstone National Park. It is the oldest and arguably the most famous national park in the world. Standing at Gibbon Falls I studied the lingering signs of a forest fire that swept through the Yellowstone in 1988.

“It burned a million acres,” a ranger later said, “and thousands of fighters from all corners of the nation came to help.”

“I am fascinated by the blackened trees,” I said. Most were mere poles, charred all around, with short, barren limbs poking out all the way up. No tree had any greenery.

“What we discovered is this,” the ranger continued. “Burning the green canopy that the trees provided opened up the wilderness floor. Not only has the ground cover returned in full force and with renewed vigor, there are species of plants that never would have grown under the old conditions.”

“And what about the wildlife?” I asked.

“Slightly different,” he responded, “but as rich and varied as before.”

He was spouting, I later learned, national policy shaped by the modern environmental movement. Not everybody agrees, and there are a million websites to assert and attack almost any proposed policy on management of the wilderness trees and their periodic fires.

What exactly is the long term effect of a wildfire? Does it clear off dead material and make way for the new? Or does it destroy good timber and habitat, demanding decades to recover?

Exactly the question that faces citizens around these United States. A wildfire is racing down Wall Street. Should be put it out, taking resources that could be used to better advantage elsewhere—or should we let it burn, clearing dead wood and making space for new ideas, new investors, new institutions, new experiments?

I am not an economist, but after visiting Yellowstone, I am not afraid to let her burn!