In what at times has sounded like a script from Sesame Street, pundits and economists have endlessly engaged in speculating about whether the recession looks like the warm and fuzzy Letter U, the nasty Letter V, the even nastier Letter W, the crazy Letter X, or the dreaded Letter L. It's enough to make you swear off Alphabet Soup forever.
Call me illiterate, but I think we're barking up the wrong analogy, what we've got looks more like a roller coaster from where I sit. Think about it: the most terrifying ride in the park-you go up a little and then down, your heart lands in your stomach and you're afraid you're going to upchuck all over your date but then you realize that you survived and it isn't so bad and hey you're going up again. And then you get to the top of the next rise and see the very long and steep decline that lies ahead...
I'm no economist, but while the Cash for Clunkers program certainly helped lower car inventories and upped the average mpg of the cars on the road a tad, only 41% of the cars bought under the program were American and hey did you know that the payments are taxable? Much more importantly, none of this does jack to reform our transportation policy. So now that the program is over, how long does the economic honeymoon continue? And when does an understanding of peak oil temper our Detroit at any cost mantra?
Then there is the money laundering bailout of the banks and insurance companies. Stockholders got stuck in the hot water spin cycle where their money shrank the big one leading a panicked Congress to shovel enormous amounts of money at these companies with shockingly little oversight or regulation. We don't even know how the money was used or where it all went. And funny story, those companies that were about to plunge into the abyss and take us with them-stock prices are back up, and the CEO's are doing quite nicely, thank you. And what exactly has been done to insure that it doesn't happen again?
As for the foreclosure crisis-that nasty little house of cards seems to have eased. Or not. Seems there are some mortgages called Option ARMs about 70% of which will reset before 2011, some by as much as 63% leaving a whole lot more people with not much of an option but to go into foreclosure, so that one isn't over yet either.
Those factors, and throw in the health care debacle and unemployment while we're at it, are enough to say we've still got a problem but our current economic woes are only the tip of the not so proverbial iceberg. Which happens to be melting. And quickly at that.
Our national self-centered myopia when it comes to climate change and environmental peril is blinding us to the inevitable, drastic changes ahead. In the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, we believe there is such a thing as clean coal and safe nuclear energy, we blithely use pesticides and herbicides on our land and then drink them from our rivers. We poison our air and imperil our food supply by genetically modifying it and then go back to watching Mad Men or American Idol without a minute of my bad or wondering about the consequences and cost of this folly.
And costly it will be. As the healthcare ‘reform' debate has made all too clear, we have incorporated our democracy to the point where the welfare of huge corporations is considered at least if not more important than the welfare and health of the people they supposedly serve. The same is even more true of the energy and global warming debate, witness the recent effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to hold a "Scopes"-like trial on global warming for the simple reason that the corporations they represent will do just about anything to keep making a buck for as long as they can, no matter the cost and heaven forbid they should be held accountable for the damage that is staring us in the face.
This head-in-the-sand state of national denial is not sustainable, it's not even survivable and it most definitely is not profitable. Richard Power puts it quite eloquently,
(T)he climate change debate (by that I mean what to do about it, not whether it is real), is not... simply one of dire national importance, it is one of dire planetary importance, and the nature of opposition to meaningful action on climate change is not simply self-abusive, it is suicidal.
Or in the even more dire words of Johann Hari, we are at "five minutes to ecological midnight."
Whether or not the recession is ending is irrelevant and not even the correct question. At best, we are in a bit of economic remission, but do not be deluded, the ride has only just begun, and the big fall is still ahead.
I'll leave you with this...