Thinking about all the Americans without jobs this Labor Day week end, it seems to me that neither major political party is really tuned in to what is happening in our American society. (The same can be said about our US Catholic bishops, but I will not comment much about them this week end…)
We are living in a time of deep and rapid socioeconomic change. It seems to me that our politicians on both sides are still offering solutions to last century’s economic challenges. (Somewhat like our bishops still fighting yesterday’s issues and regressing to an overly-idealized 1950-styled church.)
Indeed, our economy today is less predictable and less secure. Many factors contribute to this situation: the technology revolution, globalization, the nature of work, the distribution of the rewards from working. Thanks to rapidly expanding and ever smarter machines and global trade, the well-paying, middle-class jobs that were once the backbone of our American society (not just America of course!) are vanishing quickly. Driving around and through Detroit recently these realities really hit home for me…
I am a theologian not an economist; but there is something seriously wrong, when our economy’s growth engines are enriching the few and squeezing out the many. Glenn Hubbard, economic advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said recently that we simply need to allow the economic system to heal itself: “If an economist is honest with you, the best he or she say is what we need to do is allow those opportunities to happen, and they will.”
Hubbard uses the example of the successes of the Industrial Revolution, which indeed ended up greatly improving the economic welfare of millions of Americans, creating a more comfortable and stable middle class. I guess that’s why people since WWII have said on the first Monday of September: “Happy Labor Day!”
What Hubbard and his followers forget of course is that industrialization worked thanks to an elaborate system of new social, economic, and political institutions, along with trade unions, universal public education, and a social welfare safety net.
Today’s society and today’s people-needs are different. We can’t rely on steam-engines (or analogically Latin liturgies in the church) to put people back to work, families back into their mortgaged homes, and to give young people a future worthy of their dreams.
My favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, said it very well: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”
We need new political and social institutions to conduct us safely through today’s and tomorrow’s global and virtual communities. Inventing those new institutions will be hard work and thinking and talking about them can be frightening.
Frankly we have no alternative. Regressing to yesterday’s program will not work, because we no longer live in yesterday’s world. I wish the makers of contemporary political rhetoric in both parties could understand this…….
In any event, friends, HAPPY LABOR DAY! I hope you can spend good time this week end with family and friends.