I know lots of people like Bartimuss friend Sue. Sue worked for United Airlines for 23 years, lost her savings when the companys stock crashed, may lose her pension in the current bankruptcy, and has to supplement her now part-time wages with a second job cleaning houses. I recently spoke in Kokomo, Indiana, where a major Delphi plant is likely to be closed, devastating a once-secure community of decent blue-collar jobs. My brother-in-law, now eking out a living as a substitute teacher, has been out of full time work for almost a decade now, in part because of a heart condition which would saddle any but the largest employers with prohibitively unaffordable insurance costs. Everywhere I go, I encounter people with once-comfortable lives who are borrowing on their houses, running up their credit cards, losing their health insurance, and generally running faster and faster to avoid the economic abyss.
Bartimus highlights a real and urgent problem. The promises on which many of us have based our entire economic lives are no longer being honored. Were increasingly a winner-take-all society, where those at the top gorge on luxury consumption to an extent that makes the Robber Barons look like paupers, while those at the bottom scramble for crumbs. But the solutions Bartimus counsels are exclusively individual. The trick, she writes, it so figure out what comes next, and to focus on possibilities, not regrets. Maybe, she writes, shell forge a new future in woodworking, or open a gardening shop.
I hope Bartimus keeps landing on her feet, and I bet that she will. Of course people should, like her, be optimistic and muster all their resourcefulness, creativity, and tenacity to deal with the cards theyre dealt. But we should also work together to help insure a future where everyone gets dealt a decent hand.
I worry that by framing the solution totally in terms of individual adaptation, Bartimus steers her readers away from the major lesson of the stories she tells: that ordinary citizens must join together and speak out on the larger roots of these problems, on the choices were allowing to be made in our common name. If we simply buckle down and accept our fate, some of us will indeed find ways to adapt and survive, but many more will fall through the cracks. In a time when were taking The Apprentice as a national model, we need less silent adaptation, not more. Life should indeed be a banquetfor all of us. Whether we make it so is contingent on our common actions, not just how well we handle our individual challenges.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his monthly articles email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles