Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mitt's Messages

Way back on February 1, Mitt Romney made his careless remark about not being worried about the very poor. It's been analyzed to death and sped off into the murk and dust of dead news cycles. But words have a life of their own. In this case, they conveyed Mitt's message to the named groups: the very rich and the very poor.

To the rich he's saying not to worry, he'll care for their interests. To the very poor he's saying the tiny scrap of threadbare rug they're on won't be yanked out from under them. To those in the middle he's saying, "go one way or the other."

The American Dream was based on the illusion of unlimited resources waiting to be exploited by bold men. Bold men did exploit resources and become wealthy. Other smart guys exploited bold men. By the 20th Century the model worked for fewer and fewer people, especially as the century progressed. Anyone who could see this too soon had to decide whether to play along or start looking for the new way. But the old way has put up a complex and determined resistance.

Whether he meant it or not, Mitt laid out a method by which the struggling masses, unable to rise, could simply drop into the waiting arms of the support system. If you'll be okay very poor and it's just an endless, pointless slog to reach up for the nonexistent rungs of the economic ladder to climb to the shining summit, let go. As the monks and nuns of old believed, our salvation lies in poverty. Right, big guy?

Of course the mass of surrendering humanity will collapse that supposedly fine "safety net." But the germ of an idea lies in the notion that regular people have to construct their own economy and quit playing the rich people's game by the rich people's rules. It means dumping the 401K and all the other tempting investments in the heavily manipulated markets and putting the actual cash money into the new economy we create for our own good.

I haven't imagined it in detail, but it's going to involve a lot of cottage industry and local agriculture. It may require some changes to zoning ordinances in urbanized areas where local agriculture has been out of fashion for many years. Sure, cash earns practically nothing as savings. You'll have to discard the concept of saving for retirement during a career doing things you don't really like. It would be nice if we could preserve the better aspects of civilization, but we may have to settle for living shorter but fuller lives. I don't mean any forcible end to life, only that the fairyland of hospitals and medical miracles is already too expensive for most of us and may not survive conversion to the new economy.

Investment has to take on a different character as well. Big returns are abnormal. They're not impossible but they are unusual. That goes for a small percentage paid to a vast number of investors as well as a big gouge paid out to a small handful. In other words, the stock, commodity and financial markets as currently conducted can't work. The economy has to be built around the middle, not hung from the top or rooted in the squalor of a rotting mass at the bottom.

I know it's doomed to fail because of simple population pressure. But it's more fun to dream a nice dream and tell myself a nice story than to think only about growing old or dying young in the cold, dirty world that really exists.

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