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"Looking for the Upside"
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Someone asked, "Is there an upside to the economic meltdown?" I know people who say they can't imagine any such thing -- it is pure disaster, a 20-year depression -- what could be good about it?

I'm no cock-eyed optimist, but I can think of several things.

[1] The meltdown will lead to a required review of the Pentagon budget, and perhaps even of war itself as an instrument of national policy. What is gained by killing large numbers of people? What do we manufacture for export, besides F-16's?

[2] The meltdown provides the final and complete repudiation of the doctrines of Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School, who advocated absolutely total deregulation, privatization of all government functions except war, and the shredding of the safety net human families depend on. Their ideas were carried out in many countries in recent decades, including Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Poland, Russia and partially even here in the U.S. The meltdown proves that Friedman was entirely wrong. For the details of all this, see THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, by Naomi Klein.

[3] The meltdown will lead to massive popular endorsement of Social Security and the safety net. People will comprehend its value. There will be no more toleration of talk of privatization or of shutting down of Social Security. There will be fresh impetus and opportunity to set up Medicare for all, which will care for all of us and end up cheaper than the current health care mess.

[4] The meltdown constitutes a serious comedown for rampant consumerism and unlimited growth. It will amount to a restoration of reasonableness and a return to reality. There will be less emphasis on individuals amassing heaps of stuff, like all that Christmas crap we import from China. Many families have been renting storage sheds for all the stuff that doesn't fit in the house.

[5] The meltdown could result in a revamped economy, with more emphasis on providing for the necessities of life for everybody. Concern and care for the environment will be enhanced. Equality will once again be taken seriously by a growing number of people. The new economy will not let such a huge fraction of our ingenuity and effort go into "holidays," while people are hungry and cold.

[6] The meltdown will take away the mystique of Bigness. Small will be seen once again as beautiful. Local will again be seen as preferable to "global."

[7] The meltdown will make more desirable, and feasible, a new social contract, a new sense of solidarity. It will become clearer that we are all in this together, after all. Our species made it through hard times in the early stages, what with ice ages and sabre-toothed tigers. We did it through cooperation. The meltdown has proved that unbridled individualism is a bad idea, for everyone.

What has melted down? Imaginary wealth, scams, then housing, then banks, now employment, now commerce itself. No one is buying anything but food and medicine. The value of the money itself is now seriously at risk. See Zimbabwe. Gone! All gone! Some could call this development "chickens coming home to roost." Recent foreign policy and economic policy -- wrong! All wrong!

If the goal of the world-wide response to the meltdown is to "get back to where we were," as one pundit put it, then there is no upside and no meaning at all in the meltdown. If that's all we attempt, then humans are too stupid to benefit from setbacks, or to learn from mistakes. Unlimited growth and unrestricted greed constitute a mistake. If we don't learn from it, there is no upside.

But this must be noted -- the upside of the meltdown is opportunity. Nothing good is guaranteed or automatic. Nothing good will result, if we do nothing. Maybe we should start doing some of what needs to be done.

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Copyright © 2009 Harry Willson

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