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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/19/13

A New Economic Story of "Money & Life"

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Producer/director Katie Teague returns to her hometown of Roanoke Virginia, Thursday and Friday April 25th-26th as part of a national ten-city tour premiering her new feature-length documentary, "Money & Life".  The event will pose a rare opportunity for audience members to weigh their community's innovative potential through the filmmaker's perspective in learning why her 'story about money' is so vitally important for empowering civil transformation.

Having grown up and attended school here, Katie Teague is well aware of the area's societal history, a heritage so rich it virtually emanates from the depth of local souls.  Like other post-industrial cities straddling both the Bible and Rust Belts though, the people here have consequently been typified by Richard Florida in The Personality Map of Who's Your City as conscientious and agreeable (Florida).

For this reason then, the region's citizens can typically be viewed as a proud, amiable, hard-working, principled, and loyal lot.  Yet, while their shared work ethic over the last century has at times served as a backbone for national strength and prosperity, they've also wrestled fiercely to retain time-honored traditions and family values while simultaneously shedding blood, sweat, and tears to raise this little, rough-and-tumble railroad town that they so dearly love.  But times are tough--so tough, in fact, a sizable host are gravely disheartened; suffering from various afflictions including disbelief, denial, addiction (inebriation), ignorance, poverty, and fear.  Tragically too, these conscious states are often compounded by confusion surrounding issues of personal identity and self-worth, often traceable to the rising of a societal monolith over the last 30 years that has seductively enticed, prior to ruthlessly exploiting, and ultimately victimizing, the local proletariat as unwitting cogs in its pernicious machinery.

Beginning at least in part with Dick Nixon's issuance of Executive Order 11615 in 1971 initiating a suspension of the U.S. dollar's conversion to gold (Gruber), the exiting president's dismantling of the Bretton Woods accord opened an avenue of development for a "system of monetarism, whereby the (U.S) economy" would, over the next four decades and under the Federal Reserve's auspices, prostrate herself as central banking's wanton handmaiden (Cook).  In this way then too, the United States gradually became the principle figurehead of a geopolitical clockwork forged from a Western coalition of nations adopting a New World Order's unholy penchant for tax-derived, debt-based national currencies.  Likewise, but in a means comparable to Hitler's conscripting of the Christian church in service of a Nazi agenda, contemporary evangelicalism avidly comprised a league of global, tax-exempt foot soldiers, championing by blind faith neoliberalism's dystopian aspirations of becoming the planet's preeminent militaristic/economic superpower (see Mammon).

The U.S. Productivity Farce
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The U.S. Productivity Farce by Reuters

Consequently though, and by the "early 1980s", "the federal government" was already acquiescing in its adoption of "economic policies" bringing about a "steady erosion of our manufacturing base, elimination of millions of skilled industrial jobs", an amassing of "household and individual debt", the "crumbling of our physical infrastructure", and widespread "privatization or elimination of public services" (Cook).  At the same time too, but not coincidentally and as the chart above reflects, "the benefits of" increasing productivity over this same period began accruing not to the people, but rather "to the very wealthy" (da Costa).

Within "a society like that of the United States that already produces the equivalent of $190,000 for every family of four" (Alperovitz & Dubb14), however, this skewed accrual of wealth has been portrayed in a recent video entitled, Wealth Inequality in America.  The clip's underlying premise simply compares what 92% in a group of "more than five thousand Americans" thought an ideal distribution of wealth would (or should) be, to what they thought it actually was, and finally to what in fact . . . it really is.  In viewing the top bar graph of the chart below (the 'Actual Distribution of Wealth'), note that the bottom 60% of citizen wealth is reflected by the 'green' section (and everything to its left) and that the upper 40% of population wealth is everything to the right . . . the realities are staggering (politizane).

Wealth Inequality in America by YouTube

Yet, as insufferable as circumstantial conditions are becoming for a vast many Americans, economists don't necessarily foresee the overall scenario as leading to either a collapse, nor reform, of the economy as a whole.  We "face a long-term (and unusually structured) systemic crisis, not simply a political crisis" (Alperovitz, 1) . . . "which is not easily described in conventional or classic terms: The system may not be capable of fundamental reform; but (it's) also unlikely to collapse (Alperovitz, 2).  Similarly Jeffrey Sachs, "Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals" (Wikipedia, "Jeffrey Sachs") simply says; "(t)he financial crisis of 2008 was not an accident".  Rather, "(i)t was the result of a long period of political decadence in the United States aided and abetted by a growing hole in economic science" (Sachs 1).

Disconcertingly though, the effects of the political decadence to which Sachs refers isn't relegated solely to the economy but rather, exhibits a spiritual pathology rooted deeply in the underlying ethos of our collective psyche and overshadowing America's socioeconomic landscape as a whole.  Speaking to this societal dissolution and as quoted previously in "Leading in an 'Unthinkable' World", Butler Shaffer notes:

"Civilization -- not the institutional order -- is in a critical condition, one brought on by the failure of our intellectual and spiritual immune systems to resist the virus of institutionalism. This crisis is not to be found in Washington, or Detroit, or on Wall Street, but in our thinking about who we are as individuals and as members of society. As long as we revere the interests of organizations more highly than we do our own; as long as we continue to invest the lives of our children and grandchildren as resources for institutional consumption, this crisis will continue unto the disintegration of civilization itself" [emphasis in original] (Shaffer).

Tragically enough, and to our own dismay, many of those institutions, once pillars of American society, have become little more than a bureaucracy of mean-spirited, adversarial (if not, predatory) fronts for a U.S. Welfare State whose approach to mass control entails pathologizing, criminalizing or otherwise writing-off its vassal (see - "In the Belly of the Beast").  To this end then, the heartbreaking outcome has in its own way contributed to an "incarceration rate" that is "the highest in the world" (Wikipedia, U.S. incarceration rate).  Consequently too, but in Roanoke this means that, in large part, social management is orchestrated through the coordinated efforts of its two leading industries, "Health Care and Social Assistance" and "Total Government" (Roanoke 21).

Similarly, and as shared previously in "A Leaderless Revolution: Occupy Economic Democracy", "nowhere is (an) unholy theocracy" between church and state "any more evident than in" the "city's management of its under-employed poor" (see also - "Saving the City's Soul").  "Nevertheless, but having drafted a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness three years earlier, in 2009 it received stimulus funding totaling $766,000 to establish a Community Housing Resource Center and later, an additional $708,856 for distribution to local 'service agencies'" (McConnell).  Thus, but as Gar Alperovitz puts it; "(i)ncome and wealth disparities have become severe and corrosive of democratic possibilities.  The economy is in tatters.  Unemployment, poverty, and ecological decay deepen day by day.  Corporate power now dominates decision-making through lobbying, uncontrolled political contributions, and political advertising.  The planet itself is threatened by global warming.  The lives of millions are compromised by economic and social pain.  Our communities are in decay" (Alperovitz & Dubb 1).

From crisis to change: "Money and Life"

Of course, to the respective members of Roanoke's card-carrying bourgeoisie, the prospect of crisis described above, must seem overstated . . . a farce, even though there are significant indicators to the contrary.  For example, a statement by Mayor David Bowers at a joint meeting in January between the City Council and School Board, "that Roanoke's fiscal cliff (was) looming just beyond the horizon", evoked Vice Mayor Rosen's retort saying, "Roanoke has been proactive" (Garner, Mayor Bowers).  At the same time though, and while the issue of municipal debt initiating this tension may not register as a particular threat or menace to most, Alperovitz warns that "continuing financial and political pressure may lead . . . officials to attempt to secure revenues by selling off public assets" (Alperovitz & Dubb 6).

Coincidentally enough, and in a recent session, Roanoke's City Council by a vote of 4 to 3 (Smith) and despite both the planning commission's rejection and an abutting neighborhood's petition, approved the sell of "a shuttered school" (Huff Lane Elementary) for "$1.7 million".  In so doing, council members Rosen, Bestpitch, Ferris, and Trinkle together, jointly thought it best to override the expressed wishes of community members in favor of adopting a proposal by developers to build "two five-story hotels and a restaurant" (Ress).  The lesson here though, once again, seems to follow Alperovitz's suggestion that, "public resistance to such strategies, although less widely publicized, has been surprisingly strong" (Alperovitz & Dubb 6).

Nevertheless, but with the systemic worsening of economic conditions worldwide and the imposition of austerity measures as witnessed in Greece and Cyprus, it's perplexing that Roanoke's civil set continues to so heedlessly view itself as being spared, absolved, or otherwise above, comparable actualities.  With a proposed city budget for 2014 sitting "$9 million out of balance" and the possibility that "sequestration" could result in an "economic retraction" putting "the debt policy in jeopardy" (Gardner, City Nervous), Roanoke will be challenged to remain within its "10% Capital Improvement Project" limit (Gardner, Tough Economy).

Money & Life Trailer from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

On the eve of Money & Life's World Premier last month in an interview with Margaret Larson , the host of Seattle's New Day Northwest, Katie Teague discussed how her background as a psychotherapist ultimately inspired the production of her documentary.  Consequently, and where the "film explores the role of money in our society", and subsequently asks whether we can "see our current economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous opportunity?", Teague guides our steps on a path that answers in the affirmative (New Day Producers).  The question seems to be, will Roanoke find the courage, resolve, compassion, and integrity to adopt 'a story about money' capable of actually 'changing our lives' . . .

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Brian McConnell, BA has worked with the underpinnings of Integral thought and theory, primarily in the fields of education and psychology since first introduced to Ken Wilber's, Eye to Eye in 1997. His background in contemplative practice stems from (more...)
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