Down, Down, Down

Listening to NPR yesterday, I heard a series of reports on the American economy, and one of the broadcasters commented that this week would bring some information which would allow Americans to decide whether or not we are facing a recession. I was kind of surprised by this statement, because I would hope that everyone is, at this point, aware that we are in a recession. Even the President admits it, although he didn’t use the “r” word: “It’s clear our economy has slowed,” is what he said on 7 March. Of course, he went on to say that the ludicrous tax rebate package was a booster shot, claiming that things would perk right up, but of course by the time things really get hairy, he’ll be out of office, so it’s no skin off his teeth.

I think that evidence has been pointing to a recession for quite some time, but the cards are on the table now, and the truth should be obvious, at this point. To think we need to “decide” if we are in a recession or not is foolish, as any number of articles in leading publications indicates.  Interest rates are extremely low, which is a pretty strong indicator, as the Fed is clearly trying to get things running again by cutting interest. Lenders are starting to actually check credit, realizing that their policy of lending money to everyone and their sister has backfired. Repossession of homes and cars is on the rise, the dollar is falling against other currency, our unemployment rate* is huge…all of these things should be pretty strong indicators.

If you’ve missed the writing on the wall, you must be either willfully ignorant or among the fortunate few who is not immediately affected. Given the fantasy world that many of us seem to live in, I suspect that there is a lot of deliberate refusal to face facts going on. I think it’s really telling that even the government has started to be frank about the fact that the economy is flailing; when the chairman of the Federal Reserve says that lenders should resign themselves to not recovering the full principle on their loans, that’s a really bad sign.

This situation has really shown me that an alarming number of Americans really don’t pay attention to what is going on. A growing number are getting interested in the popularity contest, er, competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, but many of those people can’t explain why, or articulate their political beliefs and awareness, because they don’t have any. This is especially true among low-income Americans, who don’t seem to be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together when it comes to understanding that they are being repeatedly and royally screwed by the government. I’m not trying to be patronizing here, although I suppose I could be read that way, it’s just that many low-income Americans don’t have access to the tools they need to see what’s going on. If they did, I think we would be facing a violent revolution.

Talking to my father recently, I mentioned how frustrating it was that people vote without really knowing what’s going on in the world around them, and he reminded me of the tests which used to be administered to immigrants and blacks to keep them from voting. Do I want to return to that? No. But I do wish there was a way to get people interested in what is happening, to get Americans to think critically about their government and its policies. I don’t believe that all people are good, or that all people are equal when it comes to skills and intelligence, but I think that all Americans could create a sea-change if we worked together, and if people understood the need to work together.

Maybe we need a politics-fueled reality TV show, with little factoids that flash on the screen. That’s really the only way I can think of to reach Americans, in the hopes that it might draw them out of their willful ignorance. And I can’t even begin to tell you how very sad that makes me.

*One neat thing about the unemployment rate is that if you’re unemployed for six months or more, you get dropped from the rolls. Likewise with people who say they have stopped looking for work. So, really, it’s worthless, because it only provides information about the newly jobless.