Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Illusory Return to Economic
By Ben Tanosborn
ccun.org, July 3, 2009
“Everything would be ok if it weren’t for that CNN scaring us
out of our wits, giving us all those stories and commentary on the recession
and presumed bad economy,” was the statement someone made at the table as we
were having breakfast at a delightful B&B of the most charming
Victorian-accented town in Washington State: Port Townsend.
centerpiece for conversation, that’s what that statement became, where
everyone could contribute regardless of level of knowledge or degree of
ignorance… except for me, preferring to listen intently while doing the
honors to some great French toast.
I have a feeling that only
artists, dreamers, writers and aspirers in those categories live in or visit
communities such as Port Townsend. There are, of course, three hundred
workers at the local paper mill… afraid, one assumes, that an extended
recession – added to a stricter enforcement of environmental standards –
will force the mill to shut down (as rumors have it); and these folks are
not dreamers, only holders of those few jobs left in America with a living
wage; fading remnants of a blue collar middle class that made this nation a
proud producer of wealth… now, in the globalization frenzy turned into a
Unfortunately, and contrary to the
optimistic tone of the discussion which ensued, ours is not a presumed bad
economy… for what we are living through is but the early stage of a long and
deep recession – we dare not call it depression – and not just a business
cycle. If we are unwilling to see the obvious systemic changes
starting to take place around us, we are burying our heads in the sand, for
it isn’t the news accosting us 24-7 but what’s in the news.
Unemployment is sure to continue going up, if at a decreasing rate, until we
reach the low teens which when combined with the unstated unemployment
(those who are not in the statistical count or are underemployed in hours or
skills) could by next year bring the real, if unpublished, number in
unemployment close to 20 percent. And what is even worse, that level
of true unemployment will stabilize around that figure.
In a global
economy, such as the one we are in, self-confidence level means little or
nothing in the long run. The belief that just because we are a society
with superior aspirations our dreams will be fulfilled is a chimera; our
dreams are not much different from those of 6 billion people around the
globe. We must realize that the so-called American dream was a thing
of the past, something then realizable because of our self-contained, huge
marketplace without commercial barriers, the largest by far in the world at
that time, and the critical reason for past economic success – something
evidenced and written about by socio-historian Alexis de Tocqueville almost
two centuries ago; and not the perennial reasons given of Americans’
greater entrepreneurial spirit, or the seemingly sublime Protestant ethic
and spirit of capitalism; this latter still being milked by our politicians
to this date.
The retail landscape of the nation is undoubtedly in
for a permanent change, and that’s where up to now we have based our pseudo
standard of living, certainly an overstated level of affluence. Many
Americans had found themselves spending money at a much faster pace than
they earned it, but the financial sector will not be allowed to operate in
the same dismal way as in the past allowing indiscriminate credit flow.
That slowdown in retail operations is accelerating a commercial real estate
collapse. And, if that weren’t enough, states and municipalities are
likely to enter soon a wave of defaults.
The US economy has become a
frayed and torn old suit that government and the Fed are now trying to
patch; a suit that needs to be replaced, and not just patched. We are
running out of options, and runaway inflation might end up being the result,
in lieu of a cure. A scary prospect, knowing how ineffective the Fed
will be in its control… and how savings are destroyed, totally devalued!
Sorry… no apparent wisdom from that person at the breakfast table.
Our economic ills are real and not just a subject of concern created by a
Sadly, there we were, on the second day of
summer saying good bye to the warm surroundings of Holly Hill B&B, taking
back with us to Portland some very pleasant memories, leaving behind a city
of dreams unfulfilled, beautiful surroundings and a paper mill producing
over a third of a million tons of virgin and recycled pulp per year… and 58
tons of carcinogens; a clear and present reminder that capitalism continues
to be an economic system of understated costs and overstated profits.
We will return to Port Townsend soon enough, but America will not return to
normalcy ever. Why? The last quarter of a century has been
anything but a time of economic normalcy for the United States as
politicians sought to immerse the nation into a global economy that it was
not prepared for while keeping a façade of prosperity bought with
irresponsible credit. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II jointly did
away with possible fulfillment of any dream. Our only option now is to
be realists and live within our means, but that’s hard to swallow for a
population that was once shown wealth through a magnifying glass.