2008: The Humbling of America

Over the holidays, I asked my 92 year old Grandmother what she thinks
about the current economic climate. As someone who lived through the
Great Depression, she feels that our society is now technologically
advanced enough to avoid another economic crash. "People are more
educated and innovative these days," she explains. But can innovation
and technological prowess save us before it's too late?

The sub-prime credit crunch is just the beginning of an overall
economic unraveling predicted for 2008-2009. Bush recently signed
HR3648 which will ultimately mean that more sub-prime homeowners will
walk away from their debt since people will no longer be taxed on the
amount of forgiven debt. This will further the spiraling credit
crunch, write-downs and glut of homes on the market.

In addition, America is now saddled with the largest debt in its
history, China has grown into a challenging world power, more jobs
have been shipped overseas, Iraq costs us billions (not to mention
the emotional costs), economic disparity is accelerating and more
fundamental warnings are released weekly. We are teetering on an
economic cliff and it won't take much (inflation? increasing
unemployment?) to send us down a slippery slope.

In order to turn things around, interest rates need to be lowered
even further, but this would accelerate inflation. We need to
balance the budget, but the IRAQ war and high oil prices are the
albatrosses around our necks. Tax cuts have benefited the wealthy
more than the middle class and poor; we need to rebalance. We need
to become more energy independent. We need to allow non-residents a
path to legal, tax paying residency.

An optimistic view is that we can still rally this divided nation
through innovation, resolve and visionary leadership to overcome
seemingly insurmountable obstacles. America, albeit sometimes
reluctantly, has risen to the occasion to lead the world in the past.

But, in our current political and cultural environment, what would
fill an economic vacuum created by another Great Depression? A Bush
monarchy? Totalitarianism? A sweep of Christian fundamentalism? Would
the United States become one giant New Orleans type catastrophe? Will
we be willing to give up even more freedoms and competent leadership
in exchange for safety and comfort? And, maybe even more
importantly, would Americans elect visionary leaders that can put us
back on track?

Many of us have never lived through such an economic calamity and
think we are immune during these modern, prosperous times. Can
Americans -- saddled with a corrupted political system and autocratic
corporations -- rise to the occasion and pull us out of another Great
Depression? If we can bring back the "can do," problem solving,
innovative, humanistic, hard working values that used to make America
strong, than maybe there would be hope. A Buddhist-like simplicity
wouldn't hurt either.

After going through this type of economic fire, America could emerge
truly changed with a new responsible corporate structure, honest and
humanistic leadership and a cooperative world outlook. Maybe we would
even change how money and greed corrupt our political, business,
environmental and person domains. Instead of life serving money, have
money serve life.

My Grandmother -- and many of those who lived through the crushing
economic collapse of the 1930's -- say it was actually a time of
community building, focus on family & friends and even happy times.
There was still a sense of hope and fellowship.

There is a general malaise in America today -- we feel so
disconnected. Wealth and materialism separates us and commodifies
everything. A second Great Depression could be exactly the kick in
the pants America needs. The humbling of America might just have the
unexpected side effect of bringing us together again, necessitating a
less meddlesome foreign policy and sparking the competitive spirit.

Real change comes out of white hot fire: the phoenix rising. War,
genocide, loss of civil rights, etc. don't seem to be motivating
factors to the populace these days. They might need to be hit harder
to focus their attention: the pocketbook.