A Crisis of Power

Powerless+Structures,+Fig+101+boy+on+rocking+horse+4It’s a voice increasingly coming from the economic periphery and gaining more traction the longer it takes for global economies to get up off the mat.  While not exactly the voice of doom, as in apocalyptic, it nevertheless speaks of a coming world where limited choices will lead to a reprioritization of how we spend and how governments will behave in a time of diminishing returns.

Gwynn Dyer, for example, in a syndicated article in the London Free Press this past weekend, speaks of the “lethal consequences for a large part of the human race,” if we don’t reign in our fossil fuel consumption.

There’s no predetermined path out there, no clock-like scheme, hovering over us and leading to an increasingly risky future, merely an endless consumerism and a prolonged array of government choices that place a higher priority on economics than human preservation and adaptation.  Speaking in the midst of the last Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt developed a maxim that, while painfully true in his time, takes on an ever greater poignancy today:  “We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals, we now know that it is bad economics.”

Naturally, the vast majority of voices in almost every discipline think this a little shrill and excessively negative, but as time goes on we have that sinking feeling we’re running out of options.  We go into each recession feeling it will end in a few months, then feel encouraged when economists boast of 3% or 5% growth in the future – predictions that largely materialize.  And yet with each recovery we find unemployment continuing to escalate – growth seems increasingly contingent on less labour.  As unionized workers continue to decline, our ability to protect workers becomes more vulnerable and, sadly, workers begin to turn against their unionized brothers and sisters.

Although many conclude that poverty is relative and that the poor are better off than, say two decades ago, we continue to see a growing gap between rich and poor that continues even after recessions end.  Homelessness increases.  Those vulnerable to mental health conditions are increasingly less resourced.  Food bank numbers grow to alarming heights.  And yet all this continues to transpire even after recessions conclude.

Farmers are losing their businesses.  Students are opting to keep out of university because they either can’t afford it going in or in exiting with massive debts.  Seniors are heading back to work and twenty-five year veteran employees are headed for the breadlines. 

We perhaps see it the most clearly in our communities, where we can no longer afford the quality of life and feelings of optimism that infused our parents.  We are told we can’t afford public housing, public transportation, public libraries, public health systems, public infrastructure, public post offices or even public education.  There are private alternatives to all of these things, and though we remain doubtful as to whether they are cheaper, we are nevertheless told we can no longer live as we want to.

But just to be clear: this isn’t what we wanted, right?  True, we enjoyed the food brought in from thousands of miles away, but we didn’t mean to put local growers out of work as a consequence.  Yes, we elected good people to politics who now seem so fully ineffectual, but we didn’t realize partisanship would get so completely out of hand, correct?  We’ve actually reached the stage as a citizenry where we turn on teachers, firefighters, police, nurses, etc. and yet glorify teen idols and sports superstars, who really have no understanding of how we live and who have no influence over our children that doesn’t involve riches and fame. 

This is not what we signed up for as a citizenry.  We know that the ranks of millionaires and billionaires is growing globally but regard that wealth as out of reach until we realize it’s also out of control.  There was once a time in this country where taxes for ports, railroads, airports, rural roads, culverts, and water supplies came largely from companies that leveraged their profits from such amenities.  But most wealthy don’t make their money off of such things anymore.  They make money from money, from investing and dealing.  We ask so little of them anymore and yet the level of investment abandoned by such firms can hardly be made up by taxing the middle-class alone.  They demand governments invest in various kinds of deregulation and tax breaks, leaving the running of a huge country with a small population up to average working people who can neither afford it or take full advantage of it.

And now we discover that the vague stirrings of a global economic meltdown might actually have some substance to them.  We are told that oil, food, and other amenities dependent upon fossil fuels is about ready to escalate beyond what we thought possible.  We understand as a people, and as communities, that the amount of money made in a single day would simply blow away any other time preceding ours, and yet it increasingly lands less and less in our communities, our hopes for our children, our plans for our cities.  All that money; so little hope.

All of these things are ours to change.  We established a democratic order specifically to enact fairness, opportunity and innovation through legislative equity.  So we can change it.  We can demand a greater economic accounting from our governments, our lending institutions, corporations and ourselves. But we’re not there yet and the road is about to get much steeper until we are ready.