Friday, October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008 - Communitarians, Arise

I’m on study leave for a few days, at our Adirondacks place. I’ve got quite a pile of accumulated books and journals to plow through.

The first thing I pick up to read is the September 9th issue of The Christian Century, whose news briefs section cites some political commentary from a column by E.J. Dionne. U.S. history, Dionne observes, is a back-and-forth tug of war between individualistic and communitarian impulses. The Century summarizes Dionne’s argument: “Dionne thinks there is a communitarian correction after a period of time when the individualistic metaphor of free markets reigned supreme. McCain’s notion of honor associated with the military is more communitarian than individualistic, and Obama’s slogan ‘Yes we can’ reflects deep communitarian commitments.”

My generation, the Baby Boomers, advanced communitarian ideals through the social upheavals of the 1960s, then settled in for a long period of individual striving. Many of us traded George McGovern for Ronald Reagan, backpacks and sandals for briefcases and wing-tips. We trekked from Woodstock to Wall Street.

Our parents’ generation, the “Greatest Generation,” traversed similar territory in their time. They cheerfully pitched in with Victory Gardens and rationing coupons during the World War II years, then traded in their communitarian values to raise nuclear families in the up-and-coming suburbs.

Ronald Reagan’s political revolution was an emphatic, angry resurgence of individualism. The recent near-collapse of the financial markets – brought on by the absence of government regulation – is the natural conclusion of the Great Communicator’s program. These developments have exposed the central economic dogma of Reaganism – that unfettered individual striving will result in “trickle-down” communal benefits – as a fraud. Greed has done what greed always does, left to itself. It has nearly wrecked our society. Now, as Dionne astutely observes, both presidential candidates are speaking communitarian language again. The one who is most adept at it – Obama – seems poised to win the election.

The other night, I attended the monthly blood cancer support group sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. What could be more communitarian than a bunch of people sitting around in a circle, sharing their stories and seeking to uphold one another? It would seem the way to health – for us as well as for our nation – lies in facing the beast together, rather than alone.


Stushie said...

Interesting commentary, Carl. Most of the economists are blaming this recession on the Fannie Mae fiasco that was set up by Clinton regulators. I guess I'll need to do some more reading and researching.

Carl said...

I'm not sure "most economists" are saying this. The politically conservative ones are, because they'd rather blame Democrats than Republicans. A report on NPR earlier today made the point that 75% of the questionable loan products were generated not by Fannie and Freddie, the government corporations, but by private banks. The Federal agencies were actually Johnny-come-latelies in that market, offering that sort of product only after facing overwhelming competition from the private sector.

Bryce said...

Trust the heat is on in the summer place; it's going to be cool the next few nights! And the foliage no doubt will be brilliant in its glory, maybe you'll get some snow?

As to the economy, suspect somewhere in the Bible there is something about living beyond one's means, either romantically or financially.

That noted suspect the freedom venue the world has seen post WWII
may well have come to an end. This time there may not be an easy ladder to climb to return what might be termed prosperity. Too many loans from too many unsecured sources all in the hopes of having more and more and never having to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The light is coming our way, and it's a railway train and the economy world wide is tied to the track!

A simple solution might be to simply return to a less frivolous being although suspect you and I Carl are grateful for some medical advances which have been developed because money was available; otherwise neither one of us would be communicating!

Keep smiling, we're all in this together!

Nelle said...

I am reading your blog for the first time today. I came by way of a blog by another cancer patient. I live in NJ and was diagnosed with Hodkins disease when I was 23.My son developed leukemia at 16 and he is also a long term survivor. I am voting for Obama because I feel he cares about people. I feel McCain is so wealthy he cannot possibly understand what it's like for the average citizen. I spend a lot of money on rx and medical expenses. I am now dealing with problems caused by radiation.

Anonymous said...

I think that government has only a limited ability to moderate (or exaggerate) economic cycles. And there is certainly room to blame the Democrats -- many of whom sought to expand the availability of easy credit to lower income families.

However, I work in this area -- and the wholesale dismantling of the Depression era regulation by the Bush admintration (either through outright changes or by appointment of officials like Cox (head of the SEC) who have contempt for any role for government in the markets has certainly increased the problem. For example, in 2004, our government eased restrictions on borrowing by the largest investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers -- permitting them to operate with very thin capital -- in exchange for ineffectual concessions to permit regulation of their holding companies.

The contempt for government regulation by Republicans (and McCain is one of the most prominent ones) has done a lot to worsen this crisis. If McCain is using more communitarian language these days, it is a welcome change.

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