21 September 2010

Recovering Addicts

That's what we are, economically.

For a generation, the nation was pumped upon on the steroids of cheap money, all but printed by banks and other financial houses. Then, as the supply of cheap money depended more and more on Collateralized Debt Obligations and other substitutes for real money, somewhat like cocaine cut with sudafed, we began to feel weak and woozy. Our national high was crashing and we got a serious case of the financial DTs, and went through what every addict experiences when they go through withdrawal. It feels like you're gonna die, as bad as any real illness.

Eventually, though, the drug clears your system and you are on the mend. But for a very long time, you are weak. Recovery begins long before you actually feel better, and a long time before you feel good again.

We are told that the recession, the longest in modern history, ended in June of 2009. And people are asking, "Then why am I still unemployed?"

Because we fell so far that it will be a long time before recovery gets back to 'normal.' We've all had fevers and flus and remember when we felt the tide turn. We knew we were getting better, but you still stayed in bed and walked carefully and felt unsteady for a good while.

That's us. The longer the illness, the deeper you go, the further you have to come back. Worse, though as a nation we are recovering, for individual people the recession is all or none. You either have a good job or not.

For individuals or industries or even sections of the country the recovery is not certain at all. During the last big recession around 1981, I was a new clergyman in a small town in central Massachusetts. The closest city was ten miles away, with two large tool and die factories that dominated the local economy.

They never reopened. The companies cut their losses, closed the factories and focused on other places. A century before, other towns in New England shriveled up as the textile mills and shipyards and other industries of the mid 19th century died. During the dust bowl years of the 1930s the heartland towns in Nebraska and Kansas and South Dakota began their long and continuing death. Here in West Michigan the final chapter of the furniture industry coincided with the last downturn in 2000. It's not coming back. Neither will the juggernaut of automobiles.

So yes, the country is on the mend, very slowly. But for people and places in the country it will take much longer than the country at large, and for some there will never be a recovery. One might think, in lofty abstraction, that people will up and move. They did before and will again, but are we ready to slice off states like limbs, cut off cities like warts, slough off citizens like dead cells?

Yes, it may be inevitable - but should it be policy?

Just sayin'

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