Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Where Have You Gone, Franklin Delano...

There’s a feeling of unease infecting the country.

One could attribute it to the recent recession but it’s deeper and cuts right across society. It’s the uncertainty of what’s coming next. What kind of world are we handing over to our children, and will they find a meaningful place in it?

Change follows every big economic upheaval; it’s the sheer suddenness that’s troublesome this time. Take the industrial revolution of the 19th century when people fled their agrarian societies and flocked to cities to spend the rest of their short lives toiling in factories. Drastic though it was, that change played out over decades, and in the end people formed unions, governments intervened on their behalf, and conditions became more acceptable.

Again during the great depression of the 1930’s the patrician president, Franklin Roosevelt, initiated game changing legislation that with time, and the outbreak of World War II, restored full employment to the country.

In the current malaise, however, no one appears to be thinking ahead; if anything we’re living in a fool’s paradise where politicians endlessly jaw on without offering any meaningful solutions to a myriad of social and economic problems.

At a time we should be spending to promote job creation, as Roosevelt did in the 1930’s, the mantra is “cut taxes and deficits,” when it’s now obvious that the 2009 stimulus programs – although heavily weighted in tax cuts - saved us from the long term recessions of many European countries.

But the most troubling aspect is the sense that we’re not all in this together, that those in the top financial echelon share little of the general uncertainty.

“I’m 48, I lost my job. I’ve always played by the rules, but now the system has no use for me.” I overheard a woman say recently.

She has a point, with the weakening of unions she is on her own. A person half her age will be willing to work for a lot less just to get a foot in the door.

Employment may be finally picking up but good jobs are scarce and reserved for those with the requisite skills. Meanwhile many colleges are a joke, even less prepared for the huge societal change than the rest of us. They charge through the nose for degrees that have little relevance, leaving students with debt they’ll likely never repay, especially with Congress unwilling to put a cap on student-loan interest rates.

I’m by no means decrying a Liberal Arts degree, far from it, but to send any graduate into the current specialized workforce without a sound knowledge of Excel and other computer programs is madness. But not to worry debt-ridden graduates can always pick up those skills with an unpaid internship.

The housing market is finally beginning to boom again but it’s a hard nut to crack for those without substantial means. Not only are large institutions buying up property but as many as a third of all purchases are now being made with full cash down. Meanwhile credit is still tight and mortgages difficult to come by for the less affluent.

Is there no hope? Of course there is, but it will only come from the ballot box. Look how pragmatic Republicans have done an about face on immigration after the last presidential election. Their reasoning may have been self-preservation but who cares - the country will receive an economic lift by the introduction of millions of hard working and enterprising people into the system.

Still, real change won’t come without anger – anger at a system that is no longer working for the great majority, anger at a political class that must go hat in hand to corporate chieftains and their moneyed ilk for the funds to run for office, and anger at ourselves for allowing the system to be appropriated.

Of course we can take our anti-depressants and sit around waiting for a new Franklin Roosevelt to make everything okay again. But without a general desire for change I’m not sure even the patrician from Hyde Park could cut through the current national malaise.

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