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  • Thursday, December 25, 2008


    The Mirage of the American Dream

    The week between Christmas and the turning of the calendar on New Year's Day is often a time of reflection, of gathering the strands of the past year, of planning for the future. It is a time of resolutions, a time of renewed determination, a time to envision change.

    The inexorable collapse of the US financial system is perhaps a sign for us, all Americans, to rethink our priorities on a personal basis. As a society, we're used to consuming impulsively, to reflexive pleasure-seeking.

    Our economy is not predicated on the well-being and health of the citizens or meaningful security of food and shelter. Instead, our capitalism consumes us, selling us fantasies on TV, entrancing us with empty celebrity news. We live other people's lives on "unscripted dramas" and we give little thought to creating a sustainable way of life. The captains of industry grow rich and use us, discarding the vast majority of Americans in the name of profit.

    One report I saw recently estimated that half of the US bailout dispensed to banks so far went to shareholders of the banks, not to increase reserves or loans. Of course it's difficult to know because there is no way to check how the money is used. No requirement for the institutions to report how they are using the bailout money. Now the banks are saying they have no way of tracking how the money is used. Banks that don't have a way of tracking money that comes in and goes out? Now there's a fable for modern America.

    Qui bono? Who benefits? It doesn't take a brilliant flash of "Eureka!" to see that the wealthy benefit. The system is set up that way. The poor-but-patriotic go off to fight a war and the majority of workers live in fear of job loss in an instant.

    As usual, the supporters of the financial bailout say the benefits will trickle down to the workers, to "Main Street," eventually. I've heard this before. Actually, it is the continual refrain of American capitalism to the vast majority of workers: "You'll get yours in the sweet by-and-by."

    So we are learning to watch the scrambling, the sliding of wealth down the drain. We are waking up to a new vision, a new awareness of where our money comes from, who our work benefits.

    There's a bumper sticker that reads "Think Globally, Act Locally." There is a wisdom in that epigraph.


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