Sunday, February 1, 2009

America: A Fair to Middling Place

First, let me thank those folks who have been so kind in their condolences in response to my need for treatment, and also to Sam Taylor, who reported my last blog in the local paper. Sam didn't have to do that, but I appreciate him helping to get out the 'word'.

Back in the days I was growing up in North Carolina, I can recall the excitement that always seemed to surround the many tobacco auction warehouses.
Tobacco, for all its bad attributes, was -and may still be- the main money crop for NC farmers.
Auction time was the pay-off for a year of hard work, and the time of reckoning for finding out whether any profits produced would be sufficient to feed and clothe families, pay off loans on seed, fertilizer and farm equipment and continue rural family businesses.

The auctioneers were invariably colorful fellows, each with his own style of rapid-fire auction talk and technique, designed to keep the transactions flowing and attract the best possible prices for the various lots of cured tobacco that were being offered for sale.
Because tobacco production was very strictly controlled, not only the yield produced, but the quality of it, were critical to its profitability.
The best tobacco always commanded the best prices, and the best prices were highly prized by the producers.

In all such auctions a range of quality was displayed for purchase, and these ranged from superior down to barely passing.
Most offerings ranged somewhere in the middle, with the phrase 'fair to middling' often used to describe it.
In other words, it was good enough to sell and use, but not the very best available, and as such it did not command the highest prices.

I got to thinking about how the 'fair to middling' phrase might be applied to our own situation here in America.
This country was actually created for everyone, even though the founders were mostly landed and wealthy white men.
And, nowadays, much talk and concern is about the so-called 'middle class' and its viability during the current recession and its projected awful consequences.

The 'stimulus' package now being debated in Congress is a good example of trying to help the middle class.
There are big differences of opinion about what measures should be included in it, and which may actually work in the way intended.
That debate is healthy, because no one really knows what might work best, or the amount needed, although there does seem to be agreement that whatever is done needs to be done without undue delay.
The 'undue delay' part amounts to an early deadline which one might consider the time a trigger is pulled; as in 'Ready, Aim, Fire'.

But, before that trigger is pulled, the Ready and the Aim parts need to be carefully hashed out and agreed upon.
That big hurry is causing lots of headaches, disagreements and consternation.
And, it doesn't help that all this vital thinking and machinations are being conducted in a fishbowl swimming with all sorts of political animals.
But, that is our system, and we need to use it to best advantage.
As much as I support President Obama and his ultra-competent administration, it won't do to just ask Congress to 'trust us' on this big initiative.
We did that the first time around with the Wall Street crowd and it hasn't worked in any way that most of us can recognize.

If the current administration is as smart and savvy as I think it is, they will actively work to create the kind of trust needed to pass such legislation, as well as insure it has the best combination of features possible.
That type of approach is the one most likely to not only gain bipartisan support, but actually work as it is intended.
If a high profile, early action like this can pass these tests, it will bode well for future ideas and initiatives as well.

Now, back to the concept of 'fair to middling' for a minute:

Any stimulus package ought to be directed, fairly at the 'middle class', not everyone who sticks their hand out.
Just like our Founders definitely decided against any more tyrannical rulers, the Govt ought to decide against gifts to the wealthy.
After all, they were the ones so caught up in short term greed -which they actively marketed on the masses- that they largely created the problem we're having.
Our current tax laws and incentives are loaded so heavily in favor of the very wealthy that it would be unconscionable to further favor that relatively small class of people.
Besides, the Bush policies have failed so miserably that to continue the same approach would border on insanity!

As far as helping the very poor with Govt assistance, that should always be a priority for improvement, regardless of any recession.
So, any 'stimulus' oriented in that direction ought to be of the long-term, sustainable type.

Here in America the 'middle class' actually represents, by far, most of our population, a fairly broad spectrum of people ranging from below the very wealthy to above those most in need.
And, that is as it should be in our type of society, which unlike countries like India have tried, hasn't fallen into a rigid 'class system' that assigns limits to what people can do with their lives.

Using a so-called 'Bell Curve' distribution, our goals ought to be having a broad curve of moderate height and steep sides, which would leave room for exceptional success and some abject failure, but mostly well-being for the vast majority of citizens.
And, there is no reason America can't achieve that kind of model somewhere in its future.
So, we ought to be clear what our ultimate objectives are before we try to fix things real quick, don't you think?

I know this idea will attract some strong disagreement, and that's OK, too.
But, consider the report not long ago that attempted to rate various countries by their relative 'happiness' based upon interviews with their people.
The result, which surprised many, was that tiny Denmark, with its exceptionally high taxes to support its social systems, rated at or near the top!
Upon inspection, most Danes felt their taxes were being well-spent by their government, as evidenced by a feeling of general satisfaction with their lives.
And this despite their less than ideal climate, high prices and modest sphere of influence in the world's affairs.
Think about it.

The Danish system has many marks of what political philosophers like to disparagingly call 'socialism', yet if the people of a country allow that to occur and actually are HAPPY with it, what is wrong with that?

It will be a long time before America ever gets close to where Denmark is on a capitalism-socialism scale, but we will likely get there anyway because that's a fairer system to most people, yet it certainly doesn't disallow capitalism and phenomenal financial success.
What better way to get the broadest possible middle class?
Plus, if people LIKE IT, what's wrong with that?

Globalization makes it harder to recognize these possibilities, because of the fierceness and urgency of competition, but in the end the very concept of sustainability will come into inevitable play and force a more realistic and rational approach to how the world -not just America- lives.

It's time to bring this semi-rant to a close, but before that I want to add that proper attention to our vital 'middle class' -of which most of us are members- is so critically important that it ought to always be uppermost in mind.
That is because the toil, production, service and caring of our middle class is the fuel that keeps America moving!
That, in turn, supports the less fortunate as much as it enables the top achievers in this country.

In the end -as it was in the beginning- we are all joined together in this experiment called 'democracy'.
Messy as hell, contentious and fraught with frustration, it is till the best system around, and all those attributes just come with the territory.
Let's don't forget that, or give up our ability to influence the outcomes we want!