Saturday, October 04, 2008

Two Aspects to the Wall Street Bailout We Don’t Talk About

The vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden on October 2 was very interesting on many levels, but they each said something I hadn’t heard in all the talk around the $700 billion bailout, buyout, rescue (or whatever we want to call it) plan being considered by Congress this past week. Gwen Iffil, the moderator, asked them a question which neither candidate wanted to really answer (and which neither Obama or McCain did answer when asked), which was “What plan or priority will your administration have to give up in order to payout the $7 billion?” At different times each of them said something in passing that I hadn’t heard before.

In response to the question Joe Biden said, “Well we might have to cut back on some of our foreign aid commitments.” And then in response to another question, Sarah Palin briefly talked about the need for people live within their means.

Biden’s response reveals that in addition to the poor of the U.S. being likely to suffer in this crisis see my earlier posting), so too the global poor will bear a major share of the burden for the greed and graft of the financial markets. puts it this way:

Largely missing from debate has been the impact of this plan on U.S. government spending on human needs in the next Administration. What will be the toll exacted on human needs for all Americans in the next budget, and who will win and lose in the latest bailout plan? And there has been almost no mention at all of the impact on our global commitments to help eradicate poverty, reduce illiteracy, address easily preventable disease, provide food and shelter to the world's neediest at home and abroad.

Ironically, the Wall Street Crisis comes at a time when the United Nations is requesting that the developed nations of the world contribute $72 billion per year (or .7% of GNP as promised) to meet the modest goal of reducing extreme poverty. The U.S. is asked to contribute approximately $100 billion over the next 4 years as their part in the plan.

Until this week $100 billion seemed like a lot of money, but now we know that when push comes to shove we can garner far more resources when we need to finance a war or compensate for the greed and graft of some unscrupulous rich folks. Moreover, while it seems like the U.S. share is out of proportion, among the 20 developed nations of the world, the U.S. is dead last when it comes to foreign aid on a per capita basis. Now it appears we will have a lock on that position for some time to come. Furthermore, the rhetoric of “ending poverty in our lifetime” will simply remain more empty rhetoric with the U.S. leading the way.

Which leads me to Sarah Palin’s comment about lifestyle. In large part the current crisis has threatened our American practice of living way beyond our means. Moreover, when it comes to energy, we often act as if we should have the freedom to consume as much energy as we want. Both tendencies point to the world’s need for we Americans to simplify their lifestyles. Except for Palin’s comment, none of our leaders have talked about the fact that we American are just too materialistic, drive too many gas-hogging cars, live in houses that far outstrip our needs, and generally disregard the reality with 5-6% of the world’s people, we consume 25% of the world’s resources. Our need for “stuff” makes us “dependent of foreign oil.” The world can’t afford us, and it is time we slow down, and scale down.

Our family regularly recycles, continually de-clutters, drives high gas mileage cars, forsakes cable TV, seeks to consume energy and generally tries to live within its means. And yet, I am continually amazed at the amount of wasteful stuff we still have laying around, and how alluring it is to consume just because I can. The messages from the media and the market is buy more, consume more, and accumulate stuff, and it is an ongoing temptation. These days I have been reminded of that phrase I first heard from the Quakers over 30 years ago: Live simply so that others may simply live.

If the last couple of weeks has taught us anything, it is that not only can we not afford to continue to live and operate in the way we have been going, but also the world can’t afford us either. John McCain and Sarah Palin like to say that terrorist groups such al-Qaeda hate the U.S. because of our commitment to democracy and freedom. That’s bullshit. In their own words much of the world (including our allies) resent and hate us for our greed and materialism, and the way it drives us to run roughshod over the rest of the world. Perhaps the chickens have come home to roost, and it is time we take a hard look at ourselves, and simplify.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


While I don't disagree with your position, I do think you ignored one critical element with relation to the 'greed' and the US commitment to human needs.

In 2006, private charitable giving from the US accounted for nearly $300 billion (1.7% of GDP). This level far exceeded the number two, the UK at .73% of GDP.

While not all of this money is directed to foreign entities or causes, it is still a significant number.

Does all this correlate to our consumption of world resources? ..probably not... I am not sure how to do the math.. Does this mean, as a country we shouldn't be giving more, either private or governmental?.. probably not..

I just think as a country, when it comes to charitable giving, we are unique in this regard, and it shouldn't be overlooked.

thanks for your blog and provoking thought..