Digging Deeper: The Real Issue of Redefinition

Stand down from greed; strike the last word: I argue the real issue today is cultural literacy. This week, Ann Romney forgot her manners as she speculated on the number of vacations she and her family might take if in office. “Not as many as the Obamas,” she coyly pronounced.

Has Ann being counting? Is she envious of these trips where the dog doesn’t have to be tied to the roof of the car? Does she long for the common touch of the Obama vacations? Or will the trips to her five homes not count? Better to say, “I’m not thinking about vacations now when the recovery has left some many homeless and displaced.” But the homeless and displaced are behind Ann Romney’s invisible veil.

Also behind that veil is the need to redefine the public-private partnership between business and government and reset common and national goals. The wrongheaded approach of greed, deception and inequality cannot sustain itself in a global environment that is changing by leaps to cooperative measures.

For example, the Philippines has lent $251M to Ireland, Greece and Portugal and put $4.55B into a multilateral Asian fund. Thirty-two countries are funding a great Asian highway, connecting the economies of Vietnam and Cambodia to Europe, while the US squabbles over bridges and potholes and the GOP holds up a transportation bill. Japan has directly financed debt issues for other countries. The most successful efforts at eliminating poverty are direct payments to families tied to education (Mexico, Brazil).

My point is not the quality of the projects, but to highlight the underlying way of thinking—and its abysmal absence from discussions of US growth and priorities. The scatter-shot examples here only highlight hundreds of cooperative relationships involving government and business not feuding for advantage but teaming to productively expand into global markets.

The G-20 early this week focused on women’s and youth’s roles in economic sustainability. Heard any noise on the American front about forward plans for expanding the place of women and youth in growth?

More than labor costs led India to develop customer service outsourcing (now, expanding into the Philippines). Brazil, now larger than Britain’s GDP, developed the world’s fastest-growing middle class, reducing its poverty significantly in a decade. China, in the first quarter 2012, bought a million GM cars.

The debt will shrink when we see a vision of a new future. I am more concerned about greed being embedded in the system rather than being a constant folly of the human condition. My faith is based on the simple and profound evidence of history, of hard, fundamental change. Despite Southern bishops who seceded with their states and whose first bishop’s letter called slavery their “gift,” slavery ended. Despite the objections (mildly!) of many citizens, segregation ended. Schools integrated. Despite the run on bullets that left a six-month waiting backlog after the last Presidential election, all is nearly safe in the Republic. Despite those opposed, women can vote.

If we apply the same persistence to our economic system and see the major advances being made by reformed systems elsewhere, we would be foolish to persist and not desist. Always issues of corruption, excess and power will be present, but a review of global economic systems rapidly moving upward (Brazil, which has more than its share of greed and corruption!) shows framing our progress in terms that doom it to decline will not lead the way forward.

A final historical note: Weren’t there those who opposed fire? Saying hunters would become lazy and fat? That it would make women too independent of the family? That the original meaning of the hunt would be lost? Didn’t some argue that spears would allow weak cowards to compete with the clubs of the strong and brave?

Progress has always been opposed, by those who felt new tools were too complex, others who saw power redistributed or the status quo changed. But there’s another reason why greed can be gotten around as an obstacle, as can fear. Simply, truth expands. The colonies are freed, apartheid ended, children are not in the mines—truth expands. Not evenly, or without setbacks, or declines; forces resist, mistakes are made (austerity!), but truth expands and changes what lies ahead. That expanding truth even changes the children of those on history’s wrong side. The expanding truth brings acts of courage that are adopted as commonplace. Its history’s long arc, and its path is marked by peril, but we get there, even if our arrival is imperfect. Maybe Ann Romney will think about that journey and quit counting imaginary vacations.

(Note: portions of this post appeared on Walter Rhett’s blog, Black History 360*, and are reprinted by author’s permission under rights granted by its Creative Commons license.)