When did the "dismal science" of economics take over the world? When did politicians start talking like business managers and real estate agents start posing like rock stars? I listen to alarms on the news each morning about "falling new home starts" and other failings in the "engine" or "fuel" of the economy, as though our society depended on some kind of perpetual bonfire to keep us all from freezing in the night. They point to "economic indicators" and say we need more jobs and that we have to stay competitive with other nations.
The problem isn't a lack of jobs. Every town I have ever lived in has 100 jobs available every day of the week. What the world lacks is jobs people want and a local economy that makes sense. For every new home that isn't built this winter there will be five men who don't have to drive 50 miles to dig trench and pour concrete in the snow. Maybe they would rather do something else. For every five young men and women wanting a way out of the dilemma of poverty, at least one or two will consider joining the military, if only to get an education and a shot at a better life. Or maybe they will join up out of the noble desire to make some part of the world a better place. Or maybe they just want to blow things up.
I just wonder how many of us feel like we have the option to do what we want to in life. And why we don't demand these options more often from our leaders, who seem more willing to pick fights around the world than explore the possibilities of democracy.
I was wondering what to do with my own life some years ago when I walked into a subway hole in New York City and heard violin music. Extraordinary violin music. Soloists from the city symphony were playing at turnstiles around the city for commuting hordes because someone in the arts establishment had provided for such entertainment in places where they were least expected. This miracle got me thinking about what might be possible if those in power were creative and bold enough to imagine a different world: one not built on avarice and greed, but on inspiration and wonder. I imagined poetry and music brigades, scholarships for all, subsidized petting zoos, monasteries made of light. This was a world where everyone had what they needed and many things they desired.
I walked out of the subway and looked up at the endless rows of office towers on Broadway and thought of the old feud in America between Wall Street and Main Street. I thought of the machinery of war and the edifice of civilization. Whenever I see pyramids, I assume there is slavery. When someone tells me they got very rich by hard work, I'd like to ask, "Whose?" When politicians and the rest of us are only interested in profits, corporatism replaces statesmanship; prisons can look like good investments, spiritual leaders like fundraisers and anyone not lucky enough to have a trust fund or be involved with a non-profit just another part of the fire.
Oliver Wendell Holmes admonished us for giving in too easily when he said, "Most people go to their graves with music still in them."