This is my solution to the economic crisis: boosting consumer confidence to the high heavens. Convince the emperor to buy those clothes. No need to sell anything; it’s all about confidence, baby. Why, besides for how wonderful it will be with all those naked emperors around (some of them anyway) the economy desperately needs consumer investment, consumer purchasing, consumer indulging, consumer confidence. Somehow, it needs to vamp up the cycle of buying and manufacturing and creating more jobs. Somehow, we need to get out of this slump.
I’m tired of driving to work in the morning while listening to the grim Marketplace news on the radio, of the DOW going down, housing prices further dropping, Eurozone drowning altogether, cost of living ballooning, unemployment climbing, debt climbing higher, work prospects a dark abyss. I’m tired of feeling the impact of the economic times in every aspect of our lives. Of trying to care for our little family with limited means, without even being able to buy the proper gear to rob the bank. Of giving our bread to Uncle Sam’s philanthropic endeavors. Of scrambling for sales in the produce section and for scholarships in the insanely-overpriced-private-school-education section. Of counting nickels and dimes.
These are especially difficult times for the low-middle class, the working class. Government resources are only available to those who are absolutely dangerously poor. The problem is that the definition of “needy” is a very poorly constructed one; only the homeless, unemployed or those who don’t report their incomes can fall into this criterion; those who make for emotional campaign ads of starvation and health crisis. But the people who work regularly and earn basic wages cannot qualify for access to Uncle Sam’s wallet of support, except of course to deposit a bite off their weekly income. Financial aid in scholarships, food stamps, health insurance and tax breaks are not (or on a limited basis) extended to this working class. And this means, unbelievably, that for these people the money spent on taxes and lost on government aid can amount to more than a working person’s total income! To a large degree that is the case for me. This is a most mind-boggling government incentive for people not to work. Why are we encouraging unemployment?
Not only does the current system discourage working, it also discourages education and the pursuit of better work opportunities. When I wanted to take a single class at a community college to improve my job prospects, they asked me to fork over more than a thousand dollars. When I wanted to take a BA at Columbia, they estimated I’ll need to fork over $110,000 (because it would be my second BA). The most basic education can be a financial death sentence. Tuition for children who need to go to private school for religious reasons is often higher than the amount that qualifies the child’s whole family as low-income. Education not only costs horrendous amounts, requires of students to pile on debt and start their lives with startling sums in loans, it also takes time away from earning an income. It makes it a very economically unfeasible route. It almost deliberately discourages our generation from pursuing a good education and the kind of careers that are fulfilling and financially rewarding for the person and the entire economy.
With economy taking the forefront of the political debate, we all seek solutions. One solution is to stop working, stop driving to work, stop listening to Marketplace radio and all the grim economic news and wait for Uncle Sam to swoop in with his unemployment and take mercy on my tuition. Or alternatively, have 6 children on December 31 and get lots of tax breaks. Damn, should have thought of that in March. Another, much less hopeful solution is that consumer confidence will be raised by providing more financial support to the working class; by redefining low-income brackets and providing more support for education and work. And the truth is I’m not very confident that any of this will happen anytime in the foreseeable future.
It’ll be a while before I’ll be buying the emperor’s cloths, I guess. Thank goodness.