It’s Economics, Stupid!

Four words surfaced in the 1991/92 presidential election cycle that put Bill Clinton in the White House. Those four words were “It’s the economy, stupid!”.

My thoughts here echo that catchphrase but extend beyond the recently completed election cycle and instead are an attempt to better understand the current malaise that is gripping the country, and indeed the world.

It’s economics, stupid!

Many of us are almost paralyzed by the ongoing stress in this country. It may result from the efforts of 45 to change reality, or it may be something more fundamental.

On an almost daily basis, we are confronted by news of killings by deranged individuals or by law enforcement officers under questionable circumstances, by protests in the streets over racially driven perceptions, by arguments over what constitutes a minimum wage and whether society should play any role in this, by arguments over immigration questions and whether some people should be allowed to stay, by religious claims that freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution has it limits, and on and on.

You only have to look at North Carolina and the trouble they are having with deciding who should use which bathroom to know something is seriously amiss.

While each issue has its followers and detractors, my observation is that much of the obsession surrounding each issue also has an economic component. Some have argued there is a cancer infecting our democracy and I’m inclined to think they are right.

Cancer as we normally think of it is a medical issue that encourages fear and loathing, is often life changing, if not fatal, and is the focus of a staggering effort by scientists to bring it under control. But never forget, there is also an economic component to the cause and effect surrounding cancer.

The tobacco industry has promoted the use of cigarettes since before we had a Constitution. It employs, or did, millions of people around the world who grow, manufacture, distribute and promote the use of tobacco to what are otherwise normal people on our planet. Today we know that tobacco smoke is a cancer causing agent, yet is not outlawed, even though advertising has been curtailed in this country.

Why has it not, you might ask. Whole swaths of our countryside have evolved over the decades such that the economic survival of millions of people depend on the agriculture associated with tobacco, its harvesting and subsequent conversion to a consumable product. Those people are citizens of this country just like you and I and they have an economic stake in preserving their way of life. So while it slowly dies, it still results in lung cancer, which is usually fatal.

With an African American politician in the White House for eight years, we saw the evolution of what might have been a positive racial outcome devolve into nightmare bordering on insanity. The principal antagonists in this nightmare can be described easily as ‘white vs non-white” even if that is not entirely accurate. This country is comprised mostly of those whose ancestry is ‘white’ and those whose ancestry is ‘black’. Centuries of cultural evolution has left an apparently indelible psyche that results in an ‘us vs them’ mindset.

I used the word ‘insanity’ in the context of a descriptive argument that says that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is, by definition, insanity. Some of this is encouraged by the relatively short election cycles imposed on our elected leaders. The time frame encourages actions that might result in a positive outcome before the end of the current cycle, which effectively discourages actions that might take much longer, such as those associated with cultural changes over time.

Promises made by candidates for public office sometimes need much longer to become manifest in society. An example is the current conflict between law enforcement and the citizenry they are bound to protect. Rightly or wrongly, it’s been festering for many decades, and as a result, is going to take decades to remedy. This is not to suggest that efforts to create a remedy are not needed, but to suggest there is an economic component to the conflict and not solely a racial component.

If we can somehow persuade our elected leaders to focus more of their time and energy on resolving economic differences, there will be a far greater chance that racial differences can be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides. I’ve long maintained that like it or not, members of our society find life better with more money than with less money. For most of us, our waking lives are devoted to improving our financial lot in life, and when it doesn’t happen, conflict follows.