The demise of the congressional deficit “supercommittee” is the latest indicator that the greatest shortage currently facing the country is leadership. The ideologically fueled stalemate that has left Congress fiddling while the economy smolders has derailed one more effort to address such issues as the debt and unemployment. The supercommittee’s greatest fear was not failure, but compromise.
It is difficult not to suspect that the fix was in from the beginning. The rush with which both parties seem willing to give up, and the lack of any immediate downside to giving up (none of the threatened mandatory cuts kick in until 2013), suggests that both Democrats and Republicans decided to throw the economy under the campaign bus they’ll be riding in for the next year.
Unless market forces determine otherwise, it appears that the stalemate will continue. Foreclosures will continue to rise. Unemployment will remain high, city and state services will continue to be slashed in many parts of the country, infrastructure projects will languish, and the deficit will continue to grow.
One can hope that things will get better, but hope is not a strategy, and the economic crisis in Europe threatens to be the latest drag on the U.S. economy, smothering the few signs of economic renewal springing up in the last six months.
That people are angry is undeniable. A recent meeting between members of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements revealed they have a fair amount in common: a distrust of big government, big banks and big lobbyists, among other things.
Finger pointing is of limited satisfaction, however. It may be more fruitful to look back on some of the lessons first gleaned from the collapse of 2008. At that time, there was a wave of regret-filled meditations that Americans had lost their way. The rampant debt-fueled consumerism that had been driving the economy for so long suddenly seemed a foolish binge, and people were talking about lifestyle changes and a refocus of priorities. Within a year, however, the bad old days that had led to the current crisis were becoming the good old days we wanted to get back to.
The truth is, the problem isn’t just about 1 percent of the population. It is really a problem of the 1 + 99 percent. The excessive debt, the lack of emphasis on education and hard work, the desire for the quick fix and the lucky bet typifies not just Wall Street but also Main Street. The glaring inequalities between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans is real, but the financial and ethical priorities of all Americans need to be questioned.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, understood that the current crisis calls for more than just an ideological or a technocratic solution: “The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.”
A great starting point for all of us may be gratitude. The United States remains blessed with great wealth and great resources. From this sense of gratitude should arise a sense of solidarity between those who have been materially blessed and those with little. “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone,” Pope Benedict wrote, “and it cannot be merely delegated to the state.”
This does not mean the state has no role. But it does mean that there will be no long-term solution where we, the people, do not understand our role.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.