Monday, September 5, 2011

Radical Thinking about Jobs and Debt

Our problem this Labor Day is not unemployment as we have thought of it before.  It is not merely that there is not enough consumption that would create more jobs.  We are undergoing a major, huge transformation of our economy and society akin to the “industrial revolution” which disrupted and moved millions of people.  Such changes create new wealth and destroy people’s lives.

First, we need more radical thinking:  The housing bubble still drives the economy: Too many houses are “under water” and too many houses (especially high end houses) were built in the past decade.  I have wondered if there isn’t a solution such as wiping out a trillion or so dollars of housing debt, and letting Bank of America and Chase fail that would re-create a functioning financial system?  (There may be better choices.)  Obviously, the side effects of such an approach would likely bring down the economy, so what can be done?  The Republicans were willing to sacrifice General Motors and Chrysler.  Why not sacrifice some banks?  Or force them to take actions that would hurt them but help others?

Enter David Graeber, author of Debt: The First Five Thousand Years.  I have somehow missed this anthropologist who was on Charlie Rose back in 2006.  I heard him this morning on a re-broadcast of a Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.  Be warned: He is called an anarchist and a communist.  (He has said “We are all communists.”) He observes that there was debt before there was cash, that religions use the same word for “sin” and “debt,” and that every society has used forgiveness of debt to solve the kinds of problems we are in today.  Remember the Hebrew “jubilee?”  See David on YouTube.  Let's learn from him.  And who are the other new, big thinkers?

Let’s figure out a good way to forgive the most onerous debts, eliminate the housing crisis, and start over.  Also, let’s invest big time in education (but let’s re-invent education) and alternative energy to provide a foundation for a new future.  How we do this in the current political climate is a big question, but it must be done.

About education: a few schools are getting rid of all books and paper and giving laptops to first graders.  If your school isn’t thinking about this, you’re children are probably part of history, not the future.  The times, they are a'changing.

No comments: