Pointing Fingers

Whether or not you subscribe to the curious concept of “American exceptionalism,” you probably sense that America is exceptionally nervous about its future, long-term and short. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the old Soviet Union (1991), the United States of America has rapidly fallen from uncontested #1 global leader to our current state of terrorized tightfistedness.

Not long ago we we’re rich. Now we’re broke, and maybe permanently broken. Following surpluses under a spend-spend-spend Democrat named Bill Clinton, we twice elected a thrifty Republican named George W. Bush, who cut taxes while prosecuting two protracted foreign wars. So whose fault is it that the national debt is insurmountable? Blame George W. Bush!

Or you could blame the blissfully unregulated mortgage banks for selling money on credit to people who had neither money nor credit. Blame those folks, too. They didn’t understand that when you spend more than you earn you accrue debts. So whose fault is it that millions of people lost their homes in the financial meltdown? Blame the banks and their irresponsible customers!

Or you could blame our State governments for setting one terrible example after another. In California, our legislature (controlled by Democrats) consistently passes budgets for which they know there’s not enough money. Instead of raising taxes, we simply amass a larger debt, a tactic that cities like Stockton, San Bernardino, and Compton are learning leads eventually to your municipality plummeting into bankruptcy. (Yes, governments can declare bankruptcies.) So whose fault is it that we can’t supply government services to people who need them? Blame the politicians and their phony baloney budgets, which subtly encourage everyone lower on the food chain – counties, cities, villages; corporations, families, individuals – to overspend as though the bill will never come due!

Or you could blame Ralph Lauren for besmirching the best traditions of American ingenuity and labor exploitation by manufacturing the official Team USA Olympic uniforms in China. The designer changed his mind when a bunch of Congressmen had a hissy fit. But now more people than ever understand that even the fancy shmancy clothiers use foreign slaves called “overseas workers” to piece together our undies and socks. So whose fault is it that we’re losing our American manufacturing jobs to Third World countries? Blame Ralph Lauren – and all us customers whose chief criteria in our decision-making is an ever lower price!

Or you could blame the Fortune 500 for allowing the economy to sputter while they cling covetously to nearly 2 trillion dollars in cash reserves (including $100 billion or so at everyone’s favorite company, Apple), a sum which looks like this: $2,000,000,000,000.00. If you divide that number by, say, $40,000, you’ll get an idea of just how many middle-class jobs that money could fund, not to mention research & development and [insert giggle here] measurable social justice. So whose fault is it that the economy is moribund while corporate cash reserves have never been better? Blame the Fortune 500 and all of us who invest in them or gamble on them or emulate them!

Or you could blame JP Morgan Chase, specifically. Aside from all the other legal crime they’re engaged in on Wall Street, it was recently divulged that the high achieving bankers at Chase earned at least $57 million in the last two years gaming the state of California’s computer bidding system for providing electric power. (Any wonder California is broke?) No power was ever sold, but lots of clever arbitraging happened. Chase played with our money in a most unusual and delightful (to the executives and shareholders) way, which further enriched those who should be rich and further impoverished those who deserve to be impoverished on account of not being as smart as the rich guys. So whose fault is it that our banks continue to abuse our trust and our savings? Blame Chase – and all of us who patronize them, including the author of this tiresome screed, all of us who have any financial dealings whatsoever with such low scoundrels!

Or you could blame the 3 billion people on Earth who survive on less than $2 a day. They remind the 4 billion of us who live on something more than $2 a day that we’re not all created equal, no matter what our Constitution and well-meaning parents teach us. If those people— Africans, Asians, South Americans – can get by on their pittance then surely we who have much more to work with can get by on our bounty. So whose fault is it that poor Americans don’t seem poor enough to worry about, not when there’s so much getting and spending to do? Blame the rest of the world, which has neither the time, facility, nor interest in reading essays about how tough times is over here in the land of SUVs containing one occupant!

Or you could just blame me. For the national debt, I mean. I haven’t been earning much income or buying much stuff or making many gains, capital or otherwise. On the other hand, I’ve not received any government assistance, had my immigration status called into question, or failed to produce a valid photo ID at my polling place.

But I’ll still take the blame for the state we’re in. Will you join me? I mean, only if you think possibly you might somehow have played any part whatsoever in the race to the bottom.

 

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