Thursday, July 28, 2011

Will the Sky Fall With the Debt Ceiling?

Are these the final moments of our financial lives before the US plunges into default? The media certainly has whipped up a frenzy of emotion around the debt ceiling crisis. I am not an economist. When the economy fell over a cliff in 2008, I didn't believe it would affect me at all. I wasn't a Wall Street investor. I'd owned my home for nearly 20 years. But I was wrong on that one. It turned out that because I have a public sector job with a pension, I was not safe. Nobody is.

The irony is that most middle and working class folks have already lost so much that, emotionally, it's getting hard to rise to the bait of these trumped-up crises. It begs the question: How much worse can it get? Unfortunately, as someone who has traveled quite a bit in the third world, I know that answer and it isn't pretty. The upside is that people do set priorities differently when their lives aren't centered on money and things. When relationships assume greater importance than material objects, it's like seeing the whole forest instead of just your personal tree.

On the other hand, I don't want to romanticize poverty. Having shelter, food, clothing and access to decent medical care are concrete conditions whose importance can't be overstated. With or without the debt ceiling fiasco the powers that be are already reaching into our pockets and helping themselves. On a personal level, my medical co-pays have doubled in the past year. Transportation costs are skyrocketing. You can literally take a bus from one end of Costa Rica to the other for what it costs to get across the bay on BART.

To add insult to injury, Obama's alternative to stave off US default in the face of Republican intransigence involved raising the age that people can get medicare from 65 to 67. Those extra two years of health care denial would make the 3,000 plus people who died on September 11, 2001 seem like just a drop in the bucket. Homeless, throw-away people litter the streets of San Francisco. Will the sky fall if the debt ceiling is not raised?

The truth is it is already lying in pieces all around us.