I just read a sad little article in the Atlantic that shows me at least part of the reason for the financial misery so many of us are suffering. The author seemed to shoulder the responsibility for his own financial straits, without accepting that most of the blame lies with the government and the 1%. He states that financial insolvency is shameful, because America is a country “of winners and losers”. The other explanation offered for the general financial misery is that America is infused with an unreasonable optimism, and he, like so many others, believed that he had done the right things and made the right choices, and could rise above any difficulty.
I am responsible for my quagmire—no one else. I didn’t get gulled into overextending myself by unscrupulous credit merchants. Basically, I screwed up, royally. I lived beyond my means, primarily because my means kept dwindling. … Many middle-class wage earners are victims of the economy, and, perhaps, of that great, glowing, irresistible American promise that has been drummed into our heads since birth: Just work hard and you can have it all.
Although he does admit that the government and business practices have contributed to our debt problems, he seems too ready to accept the responsibility, and the shame, for his problems. I find this very sad, both for him and for the country because this very prevalent attitude prevents people from working for change. This author’s evenhanded approach in his article underscores the fact that too few people understand or are willing to admit where the blame really lies.
In the late ‘70s, the government began to permit banks to issue credit cards everywhere at any rate of interest they chose. This allowed banks to target vulnerable consumers, which caused their debt to rise and their net worth and savings to drop. Add to this the erosion of wages since 2000, and the mortgage crisis of just a few years ago, and people are left with no personal safety net, and heaven knows the government doesn’t provide one. Now, finally, people are realizing they’re unhappy, but they can’t really admit why, so the current political scene is where most of this disillusionment and impotence are played out. People just can’t admit that so many of their long-held American values (just work hard and you can have it all) are worthless.
While the income gap increases and the middle class declines, a writer in the New York Times helpfully pointed out that businesses are actually promoting this income disparity by catering to the very rich. For businesses, selling to the wealthy is profitable, and they allow services to everyone else to deteriorate. No one complains and nothing is done because most people actually believe that if you can pay more for things, then you deserve them. It is time for this sort of Calvinist/capitalist value system to be abandoned in favor of compassion.
Injustice is evident not only in business, but in important social areas as well. Education in America is not equal. Poor school districts have students performing well below standard not only because the school districts themselves are inadequate, but also because the children’s families are unable to provide enrichment at home that supports learning. Be sure to look at this article and its interactive chart to see where your school district falls. Poverty is pervasive and destructive to individuals and the country. We are allowing our precious national resource to wither because of our clinging to our “rags to riches” myth. We should allow this story to subside into minor fairy-tale status, and move on. If we wish to do well, we must do good.
Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.