About the time my Dad returned from Germany at the conclusion of World War II America established an era of economic growth that enabled vets to go to college and begin careers often working for a single company with reasonable benefits and job security. Even at its height this boom ignored those that lacked the initiative, know-how, skills or experience or were simply born the wrong color to take advantage of the enormous post War development. For those of us old enough to remember or with a taste for the movies one recalls the William Wyler classic; The Best Years of Our Lives. There is no doubt the boom created an economic dynamo that with constant tweaking, lots of tricks, some luck and what many believed was the push of an "invisible hand," continued largely unabated for better than a generation. I have a picture on the wall with my Father opening a new Sinclair station holding up the dinosaur sign with the gas pump reading 27 and 9/10 cents. It was a different age. Whether one went to the movies or listened to the music of Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends; " A time of innocence, a time of confidences," we ran ahead of many of the financial problems that continue to plague those unable to run.
It isn't hard to string together a patchwork quilt of memories that describe the era and our unadulterated headlong flight into the arms of disaster. Whether the now seemingly ancient words reputedly uttered by a Republican leader of the Senate; Everett Dirksen; " A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money?" or those of the modern day poster boy for individual greed once again from the movies; Gordon Gekko, it is clear that the economy is no longer working in the interest of the American people.
The current recession seems to have surpassed many of the natural brakes that have reset our economy in the past. For those of us still unemployed it is virtually impossible to utilize social networks, job search boards and career links to overcome the growing institutional biases against hiring the unemployed, an older worker or anybody whose credit has suffered as a result of too damn much bill juggling. So, becoming a member of the growing community of have nots has not been a pleasant occurrence even if it has its share of enlightening aspects for those of us who grew up with a social conscience.
Two wars and United States involvement in Libya, Yemen and countless additional battlegrounds has drained some of the economic life out of our economy. But that only goes so far to explain the meltdown that ravaged our post-industrial economy. Politicians from both parties gave a free ride to the boys and girls on Wall Street enabling them to do everything possible and increasingly resort to finding ways to do the impossible all in the name of making more money. Many of us rode the bubble economy by investing in new homes at rates that were previously unthinkable and lived in a world that was beyond our means.
All of this happened even as our system of health care for the elderly, disabled and poor absorbed costs manufactured by an industry that became unregulated enough to continue to expand well beyond the inflation rates creating an economic disaster of its own with an Obama fix that increases the numbers covered without effectively managing costs. In this environment nearly everyone feels at risk and fingers are pointing everywhere from labors hard won retirement packages to the geometrical expansion of health care and finally and least effectively to the barons of American business charged with finding new jobs for huge numbers of unemployed.
A newly minted Republican led House of Representatives was elected on promises of no new taxes, ("Read my lips"), and to reform the economy by paying off the debt. Who will bear the burden of a broken economy with health care costs spiraling out of control, unending military adventures and unemployment looking to remain at unacceptable levels indefinitely? Who indeed? No President has won re-election with the economy in such a state and Barak Obama knows it. To get past the debt crisis that looms before us he is ready to sacrifice many of those least able to withstand the sacrifice in hopes of squeaking by, defeating a Republican contender and living in the White House long enough to better address if not resolve this long term mess during his second term.
We are all players in this tragic comedy that has been characterized as nothing short of the end of the American Empire. We can each continue to point fingers, allow our elected officials to continue to play chicken or recognize that we are all Americans who are in over our heads. We must begin to work together for the kind of fixes that will serve us all by repairing our economy, rebuilding our health care system, refining our military, refurbishing our infrastructure and creating a future that once again lights the way to an American dream that is available to all. Either we stand together beyond politics by transforming our economic crisis into a non-partisan issue or guarantee that our problems will accelerate until they consume us.