I was asked recently whether we should be afraid. As my questioner noted, there is so much talk of doom these days. Are there any silver linings? Any hope for the future? I find myself asking the same questions along with the question of how I should protect myself against a possible economic catastrophe.
The first thing that strikes me is that economic problems are caused by human beings. They are not in the category of earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. We created the situation in which we find ourselves. And that means that we can get out of this situation. Whether we will choose to resolve the situation depends on us and our leaders. The question is not so much whether an economic catastrophe lies ahead but whether we ourselves can summon up the strength to work with one another to a solution. If we are determined to cling to our current what’s in it for me approach to life, then we probably will create a situation where there is not much in it for anyone.
The second thing that strikes me is just how bad would things have to get to be really bad. I am enjoying a standard of living that I never dreamt of growing up. Would life be so terrible if I had to grow vegetables in the back yard, walk to the bus stop, borrow a book from a lending library? Most people in the world live reasonably happily with far fewer physical possessions than we do. So, if we had to reduce our standard of living would that really mean the end of the world?
That brings me back to my first point. If the future means that there are those among us who have nothing to eat then they have indeed dropped into an ugly world. But, just like in the ’30’s if things really do turn sour it will be inconvenient but not life-threatening for many of us. It will not be life-threatening for any of us if we all pull together. Back in the Great Depression the faculty at my university agreed to a 40% pay cut so that the university would not have to let any of their colleagues or staff go. I wonder whether my colleagues today would agree to that. The evidence from watching layoffs at companies around the country is not encouraging.
So should we be afraid? No, I do not think that we need to be particularly afraid of the economy per se. But, I do think we need to be afraid of one another and the havoc that we can wreak if we don’t come together.