Today's op-ed by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times addresses the unsustainable economy the U.S. and other countries have been holding up for the past decade - and how it cannot continue. He asks the very pertinent question:
"What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: 'No more.'"
The article ties together the unsustainable economy with our unsustainable rape of the environment. Some people don't realize that these two things are inextricably connected. We can't just keep building more stores to sell more junk to more people without using up everything the earth has to offer and leaving it a wasteland.
"Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.
'Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,' argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: 'Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.'"
Continuing to go on pretending that there will always be more oil in the ground is unrealistic. Continuing to chop down forests and replace farmland with more and more strip malls and Wal-Marts is also an unsustainable plan. It is time to really change our ways and use this opportunity to do something new. We may not have a choice.
Frank Rich also discusses the debacle that the policies of the last couple of decades have perpetrated. Discussing Thornton Wilder's classic play, "Our Town," which was first produced in 1938, Rich says:
"Wilder was not a nostalgic, sentimental or jingoistic writer. Grover’s Corners isn’t populated by saints but by regular people, some frivolous and some ignorant and at least one suicidal. But when the narrator evokes a common national good and purpose — unfurling our country’s full name in the rhetorical manner also favored by our current president — you feel the graveyard’s chill wind. It’s a trace memory of an American faith we soiled and buried with all our own nonsense in the first decade of our new century.
Retrieving that faith now requires extraordinary patience and optimism. We’re still working our way through the aftershocks of the orgy of irresponsibility and greed that brought America to this nadir."
He goes on to say...
"The simplest explanation for why America’s reality got so distorted is the economic imbalance that Barack Obama now wants to remedy with policies that his critics deride as “socialist” (“fascist” can’t be far behind): the obscene widening of income inequality between the very rich and everyone else since the 1970s."
No one looking at the stock market trend I posted last week could think, in retrospect, that there was a real reason behind the sudden growth that started a couple of decades ago; it should have been obvious there was something wrong. It wasn't just that there was greater productivity due to a burst of technology; technology had been improving throughout the 20th century. No, it was something more sinister: a change in the purpose of stocks, from investments to gambling chips.
Here is in interesting chart that was done before the crash of 08 - the trend was heading toward the high 5000s, while the "real" market was up to almost 14,000.
Rich points out that in one way, the crash of 2008 has been useful:
"Seen in the cold light of our long hangover, they remind us that it was the America of the bubble that was aberrant and perverse, creating a new normal that wasn’t normal at all."
If we can take this opportunity to retool our country, focus on new renewable energy sources, re-evaluate our priorities, and start working together again, America can survive and become stronger. But if the current atmosphere of divisiveness that the GOP and the Rush Limbaugh minions are trying to perpetuate is allowed to dominate the conversation then this may be the beginning of the end of the United States as a world power.