Moral Recession

The logic of American capitalism is always at bottom profoundly a-moral if not immoral and it’s never more obvious than in a recession. You’d think that with so many people out of work we’d be all the more likely to embrace national health care. Why kick people when they are already down, right? But it seems to have the opposite effect, creating a kind of moral circling of the wagons.

I have mine, and I’m willing to protect it, but I won’t share a thing. That’s the message of our current down-turn. Education is no different. In tough times, you’d think the impulse would be to protect the programs that help the folks that need the most help. After all, in hard economic times the poor and the illiterate and the old need education more than ever.

But as this story (“Sophie’s Choice for Two Year Colleges” ) in Inside Higher Ed suggests, exactly the opposite is happening; schools are cutting programs that serve immigrants, the old, and those who need the most help in reading and writing. “What will go?” Scott Jaschik, writers, “A lot of remedial education.” Economics is brutal.

If this recession is doing nothing else it is is consolidating the power of those already in power, shifting resources away from those most in need, reinforcing privilege of all sorts. Meanwhile, of course, on the other end of the spectrum, executives get multi-million dollar bonuses. That makes sense, but a reading class for someone old and perhaps miles from any family is too much to ask.

Addendum: I just saw this interview with the economist James Galbraith, (Rein in entitlements? No. Increase them, says James Galbraith) who holds a contrary view of how we should respond to the recession:

As Galbraith elaborated in an article in a recent issue of the Washington Monthly, “The entitlement reformers have it backward; instead of cutting Social Security benefits, we should increase them, especially for those at the bottom of the benefit scale. Indeed, in this crisis, precisely because it is universal and efficient, Social Security is an economic recovery ace in the hole. Increasing benefits is a simple, direct, progressive, and highly efficient way to prevent poverty and sustain purchasing power for this vulnerable population.”

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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