December 22, 2008 by Allen George
Change (or lack of)
It’s become commonplace to say we’re in an economic crisis. Not simply a downturn but a full-fledged disaster, complete with melting stock markets, bankruptcies and rising unemployment. There’s even talk that events will force a sea change in our attitudes – that North Americans will become less profligate, that we will embrace strong public oversight of markets, and that we will question “trickle-down economics” with all their attendant inequalities.
Running out of food and water because of climate change? That’s a crisis. 20%-plus unemployment? That’s a crisis. What we’re living through right now? – it’s bad, but it’s not a crisis.
You see, we’re still shopping (less, yes, but still going). Most of us still have jobs – no double-digit unemployment rates ala the Dirty Thirties. And we’ve still got hope; it’s projected that world economies will climb out of their funk in the next two years. All this precludes a long-term shift in our attitudes – for that to happen an entire generation has to be scarred. Problems have to be widespread; they have to run so deep, and for so long, that we lose faith in the system that birthed it. Bad news has to become so pervasive that the idea of it being a ‘correction’ or a random event is nothing more than a cruel joke. And we have to lose hope. Only then will we question the lifestyle and economic choices we’ve made. Only then will we undergo change.
For now we’ll simply address the worst excesses. But we won’t prevent the emergence of “too big to fail” corporations, limit outsize upper-management compensation, or disavow the corrosive effects of extreme individualism and greed on the public good. Those commentators dreaming of widespread systemic and attitudinal shifts – they’re deluded. Change will not come. We haven’t been hurt badly enough yet.