The economic situation is bad and even, depending on who you listen to, scary, and here we are on the brink of Christmas.
Christmas, in the best of years, is incongruous with its observation centered on a joyous round of gift-giving that constantly tips in all kinds of icky directions. We stand at the precipice of the holiday knowing we’ll feed the monster, hoping for the best, and reminding one another that this level of materialism is not and never was the point of Christmas.
That’s the normal odd juxtaposition at Christmas. This year we have another one.
The bailouts and stimulus packages are geared towards luring people back to spending money, shuffling credit and debt around, hoping to recreate the wave of economic expansion we’ve known for so long.
That would preserve jobs and prevent economic catastrophe from spreading to many, many families, but the economic expansion we’ve known has not been 100% wonderful.
It thrives on a steady flow of oil and other natural resources turned into a steady flow of material goods that families go into debt to buy, and which ends up as land-fill junk when the next generation of cars, technology and fashion comes around; housing starts that signal a good economy also translate into ever more farmland and city green spaces turned into housing developments as the upwardly mobile require new housing in the latest mini-castle style, pressure on families to have two incomes just to keep up, requiring compromises in how babies and children will be cared for and educated and more and more stress. (Although I do know families who manage this with creativity and aplomb, I still believe it comes at personal cost.)
I don’t know how to resolve these things. I don’t want to see anyone lose a job they need, or have the value of their retirement funds halved. At the same time, I remember — not even that long ago — looking at advertising aimed at people in our income bracket and wondering how people who have no more income than we do manage to afford new cars, new furniture, new clothes, new technology (or, nearer to my heart, truckloads of mulch and other landscaping goodies!) Apparently they were a lot more comfortable buying stuff on credit. We now know many lenders recklessly smoothed the way in greedy pursuit of profit, giving consumers what their own native greed and grasp suggested they should have.
I see no way forward from a consistent principle. I hope the economic stimulus plans work, but I think families should live within their actual means as much as possible. A world where a mother could stay home and care for her babies would be a better world. A world where we are happy with less material stuff would be a better world. And speaking of better and worse worlds, what will happen when the nation’s budget deficits and debts come due?
Just like we decry the materialism of Christmas, and still respond to the advertisers’ well-baited lure, it seems that we will not conquer this economic conundrum, since the root issue of greed conspires against us from outside and from inside.
It is easier than ever, this Advent season, to identify with the season’s theme of waiting and longing for God to put the world completely to rights.