Home arrow Articles arrow Poverty arrow POVERTY AND THE RECESSION
Home
Articles
Bible Studies
POVERTY AND THE RECESSION PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

POVERTY AND THE RECESSION

By Jim Jordal

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. For the wicked boasts of his hearts desire; He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord. The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.

Psalm 10:1-4 (NKJV)

Ponder the words of the Psalmist as he wonders where God is amid all the chaos surrounding him. The prideful wicked rejoice in their power as they reject God’s will, but they will soon be caught in the plots they have devised. Sounds sort of like today, doesn’t it?

So what the people knew a year and a half ago, but what the politicians and economists couldn’t admit until only a few months ago—is finally here: the Recession of 2008 (and possibly 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and on into the foreseeable future). The people knew it was recession (and for many, real depression) by what happened to their jobs and families and hopes and dreams for a decent life. The politicians couldn’t admit it was recession because any such recognition would reflect badly upon their failed policies and would hurt them at the polls. Economists couldn’t admit it was recession because events didn’t quite meet their models determining that it wasn’t recession until it had reached two or more quarters of decline in the Gross Domestic Product. So the people knew what the power brokers either didn’t realize or couldn’t admit—that the dreaded "R" word was here.

At first the recession was described as the worst since 2001. Then the worst since 1993. Then the worst since World War Two. Now it’s being termed by some as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And it’s not just affecting the U.S.; it’s worldwide.

Conservative economic guru Milton Friedman understood that an economic crisis and the chaos it creates is an unprecedented opportunity for rapid, profound change. The course of that change depends largely upon the ideas "lying around." Canadian author Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, quotes him as once commenting to his followers in the University of Chicago economics department that their task was "to develop alternatives to existing policies, [and] to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible became the politically inevitable."

Friedman’s view was recently repeated by President Obama’s new economic czar, Lawrence Summers. As quoted in Time for Feb. 9, 2009, he said: "Any study of history reveals that with crisis comes enormous fluidity in the system. In Washington the transition from inconceivable to inevitable can be rapid if forced by events."

So according to both Friedman and Summers the present economic chaos presents great opportunity for rapid and lasting change. As during the early years of the Great Depression, these chaotic conditions are now in confluence. Whether the present administration will seize this opportunity for permanent change remains to be seen. But at least their proposed policies offer the hope so often lacking in previous administrations.

What happens during the First Hundred Days of the new administration can create positive, life-giving improvements in the American economy and society for generations to come. Conversely, if the changes promised become merely empty short-term palliatives aimed at pacifying the public and the bankers, then the promises made to us will be relatively meaningless.

Make no mistake! In the short run severe recession exacts a terrible toll on the poor. But in the long run it may turn out to be a mixed blessing if the suffering being endured creates enough anger for people to form voluntary associations that coalesce ultimately into mass social movements similar to the past civil rights movement.

President Obama can go only part way in bringing about needed social change. What will help him succeed is not merely people advocating for change, but enough people with enough power to force him to institute change. Then the poor will reap lasting benefit from this recession.

Those of us involved in the anti-poverty movement would do well to keep in mind what Milton Friedman said about the role of reformers: to keep needed policies before the public "until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable." So we keep the concepts surrounding justice and freedom from oppression alive until that blessed time when what we propose can no longer be avoided because it is seen as inevitable.