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What's the Backup Plan?

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Message Scott Beckman

I thank God every day that the Tea Partiers and others who've fared worse than I during the ongoing catastrophe that's the national economy do not rise up in anger and finish the job of shredding the tatters of what once was and might have been had our nation not been turned into such a whorish greed fest by those who still think that's the best we can be. Their forbearance of the intolerable is an admirable rebuke to those who made such a mess of things.

I'll admit it. I'm a little bit scared. I want to believe that President Obama and all the advisers he's gathered around him know what they're doing and have a realistic chance of plugging the hole in the crumbling economic dike they inherited. I commend their courage and their hard fight in the innumerable battles being waged.

But honestly, I'm not that confident we're winning the war. Not when I do the math and add up all the red numbers you know as well as I do by now: the trillions of dollars in worthless credit default swaps sitting on bank balance sheets as fully valued assets hidden by government approved accounting tricks that would put Enron to shame; the trillions of dollars of Federal Reserve Bank monopoly money that's been handed out like candy to everyone but you and me to keep the lid on things; the trillions of dollars of lost homeowner equity; the mind-boggling explosion of trillions of dollars on the national debt; the unemployment; the foreclosures; the bank closures; and on and on and on. You know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the gut feeling that a Greater Depression might lie just over the visible horizon.

It's not such a crazy notion, you know. Former U.S. Comptroller David Walker warned us for years that the budget picture "is not good and getting worse." He said that we should not be confused by all of the numbers being used because "they are all big and they are all bad!" Walker issued stirring calls to act "now," which have obviously gone unheeded in all quarters of our government since he first sounded the alarm beginning in 1993.

And, according to no less authority than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, we're approaching the point of no return when the amount of tax revenue simply needed to repay the debt we've accumulated will exceed the tax revenue we have available to pay for things we want and need. I don't know how such a statement made by the nation's former Chief Banker can strike anyone as anything but a description of freedom on its deathbed. He said this in 1996, I believe.

But, it's so much bigger than the federal budget and, if they couldn't get the point across about the need to "Change now!" about just that, I don't expect my two cents is worth anything more than that. In fact, it may too late for change. Perhaps a few of us should start preparing more deliberately now for what could be coming next because of our failure to change soon enough.

Last night, I read an article titled, "The New Reality Does Not Include a Doomsday Collapse of Anything." It got me to thinking about "What ifs?" For example, what if the baling wire and string that are holding the economy together stop holding? What if something unexpected triggers a second devastating stock market crash like the one that signaled the start of the First Great Depression and ushers in the Second? What if we wake up one morning and find that WE are suddenly that rhetorical "next generation" that's going to find itself in a long-forecasted economic hole of unprecedented depth and have no tools left except a gigantic inventory of loan rejections and unlobbed bombs to find our way out? Are we prepared for that?

I want America to succeed. But, my patriotism doesn't blind me to the gravity of the profound economic danger that we continue to face. If there's any realistic possibility that I'm going to be asked to pay any more than the obscene amount I am already charged to atone for the economic sins of previous generations -- and I expect a great bit more will be asked if a worst case scenario comes to pass -- then I'd like those who are doing the asking to be well-briefed on the situation they face, to know what they're talking about and why they're asking for what they're asking. I want them to have high confidence that there's a high probability that what they're proposing will lead to a peaceful sustainable resolution of the crisis. And, as a progressive, I believe that solution would involve rallying our national community around a meaningful departure from business as usual.

The prospect of an unexpectedly dire economic outcome to what we all hope turns out well seems likely enough to me to warrant the special attention of a civic-minded donor willing to fund a think tank initiative whose goal is to anticipate the possible dimensions of a Second Great Depression. Its goal should be to craft a peaceful, responsible program of action in response to those circumstances that could rapidly provide the progressive framework the nation will desperately need to respond to a sudden, outright catastrophic failure of the American economy, if not tomorrow or next week or next year, whenever.

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Scott Beckman lives in Santa Fe, NM.
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