Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Look At The Bailout From Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights

When the news of the financial crisis rocked America, Congress declared an emergency session to save the country. It was passed in a mad rush amid drum beats of panic and hysteria. News is now trickling in of obscene bonuses neing paid out on the taxpayer’s dime. Reports of celebrating executives dining in opulent splendour were simply frosting on the cake of public indignation.

What does a scam look like? TIME IS RUNNING OUT!! ACT NOW BEFORE IT”S TOO LATE!! The usual bait is the prospect of fabulous wealth. This time the incentive was the spectre of looming catastrophe. Voters who were living from paycheck to paycheck ignored their misgivings and muted their criticisms. No one wants to be show up on the six o’clock news being interviewed as they stand in a bread line. For millions of voters, the anxiety was not about their million dollar Christmas bonus but about their jobs.

Now we are finding out that the accounting on the emergency bailout is far from transparent. No one knows how much overtime is being paid at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. How much of the wealth being expended by Congress is being printed rather than created?

How are citizens reacting? I live in an electoral district that voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Now that he is elected, many are expressing private misgivings about how a “stimulus package” would be paid for. Everyone understands the concept of a family budget and living within one’s means. My part of Brooklyn is solid working class. There are no corporate mansions here. Every dollar is hard come by.

I only wish that the corporate lobbyists who are jetting to Washington to cry for their corporate welfare checks could hear the talk in working class areas of Bedford Stuyvesant and East New York. These are people who know how to stretch a buck. These are people who can huff and puff up four flights of a walk up tenement and show you who really needs a break.

These are the people who scrimp and save to keep their kids off the street, either in church run private schools or sunday youth programs. These are the people who pray that the next cluster of memorial candles at the scene of a drive by shooting will not be for their child.

America’s corporate supplicants are not worthy to shine the shoes ofsuch hard working individuals. When someone is unemployed and getting thrown out of their apartment for nonpayment, these are the kind of people who double up with relatives. Did your hours get cut? Switch from Nescafe to Pathmark brand coffee. Change to no name cigarettes. Better still, quit entirely.

Maybe some of these poor corporations need to double up their offices and share receptionists. Maybe if they paid their workers better and stopped shipping their jobs overseas the workers would buy a new car or computer a little more often. Financial decisions like that on a mass level are what spell the difference between prosperity and poverty, between a bear market and a bull market.

My mother had a saying. “Money is like manure. If you want it to do any good, you have to spread it around.” I wish corporate America would heed that wisdom. When I look at a painting in a wealthy man’s living room, I count the number of people making a living from it. There is the painter. There is the gallery owner and the art supply store owner along with all of the workers who are employed along the chain of sale. Corporate America seems to care but little about the impact their financial decisions have on the country.

Sometimes when you drive past a corporate headquarters you see two flagpoles in front of the building. One has the American flag and the other has an actual corporate flag. The behavior of some large corporations suggests a mentality in which loyalty to the corporation actually trumps national allegiance. The most obscene example of this is that of credit card companies whose “relationship specialists” live in third world countries earning a hundred dollars a month discussing usurious debts with irate American consumers.

There is so much good that can be done with money that is in private hands. Sensible spending and employing American workers feeds an economic cycle that lifts up the entire country. Should Americans invest overseas? Absolutely!! But it should be calculated to enlarge the circle of prosperity and of consumerism. It should be with the aim of complementing existing markets.

There is a phrase that is tossed around with little reflection. “Smart money.” It is really a very profound concept. Money is like a power tool. It is only as good as the craftsman who is using it. Our bad economic choices have caught up with us. Are we getting to the root of the problem and restructuring? How “smart” is the money we are throwing at our problems? Only as smart as we are.

The workers of America are partners in prosperity. Economic decisions that hurt the working class more than other suffering sectors of the population are not only immoral. They are economically unsound. The money that circulates in America’s communities sustains everyone, no matter where it is deposited or spent. Writing off a class or community is like an amputation. It will hurt the larger society, and it will do so quickly.

Merging Judaeo Christian ethics with the world of faith would have an electrifying effect on the economy and on our society. There is a sublime beauty in showing that Judaeo Christian compassion and virtue is rewarding and not costly in a secular context. Paying workers fairly puts money into the economy and creates more jobs. Being fruitful and multiplying rather than aborting strenthens Social Security. Employing the elderly puts their wisdom to use and creates more wealth, even creating jobs for younger workers. We have an opportunity in this crisis to bring timeless moral truths to worlds that are widely regarded with cynicism, the worlds of business and politics. The Jewish mystical term for this is “Bringing light to the lower worlds.” It’s a beautiful thing. We have the possibility with G-d’s help of getting through this crisis stronger than before through fraternal regard for one another by through turning to our spiritual legacy. It is up to us.

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1 comment:

Deborah Stone said...

Good Post. I am boiling mad at this current mess. It's just unfair.
I couldn't believe the audacity of the Big 3 automakers to fly to DC in multi-million dollar corporate jets, holding an alms cup.