I appreciate a good restoration. As a younger man I did quite a bit of work on my classic Mustang.
Nothing you could put in a car show, but it was fun to fix, fun to drive. Of course, this was back in the day when any old knucklehead could work on his car. As much as I love modernist architecture, the restoration of a classic building thrills me. Musical pieces restored to original scores, performed on period instruments: another thumbs up. But there is one “restoration” that baffles me.
Candidates on both sides of the political aisle are droning on and on about restoring our economy.
There is this myth we like to tell ourselves, a myth best captured in the “rags-to-riches” stories of 19th century author Horatio Alger, Jr. This myth suggests that anyone who is scrappy enough can climb to the top.
And it is simply a lie. To be sure, some have made it, talent and immense effort combining with luck and perfect timing. But countless millions of others have worked just as hard, been just as talented, and remained mired in poverty.
Right now, countless millions of hardworking Americans are experiencing a declining quality of life, even as the crooks that speculated our economy into the ground get richer. Hard work equals wealth has long ago been debunked, as wealth most frequently goes to the most skilled thief.
If we dig a little deeper, we find that our lifestyle was built on the backs of others. Slave labor, stolen land, exploited resources, these were the fuel for the American empire.
Those who have gotten rich in recent decades often did so with a publicly funded police force protecting their factories, with workers who were educated at public expense. We need look no further than Microsoft's notorious business practices to know that the great success stories came at someone's expense.
Then there was this year's Republican Convention, with its theme: “We Built This.” That convention was held in a facility primarily funded by the taxpayer. I have no doubt that “eminent domain” was used to steal land somewhere along the way as well.
So, no, please do not restore the economy, an economy that benefited a few, provided opportunity for few, that was and is rigged to make the rich richer, to reward the most brazen kinds of theft.
I have to believe humans are capable of better than a small-minded selfishness. When it gets right down to it, I'm a lousy Calvinist Christian, because I don't think people are trapped in “total depravity,” one of the five classic doctrines of that tradition. I believe we are just as capable of service and sacrifice, of love and of amazing beauty.
I'm clueless how that works in real life. But I believe there are plenty of smart people out there who can bring a little holy imagination to economic questions. We already see signs of hope in developments like the “B” corporations, companies that are legally allowed to consider the common good in their decision making.
There are no doubt many other great ideas. And somewhere out there is some smart young person who can imagine a new economics, based on mutuality and decency. I pray I live to see that day.
So... candidates, please do not “restore” our economy. Do not take us back to the broken point. Do not restore an economy based on endless greed and the notion that if we buy enough foreign-manufactured junk, everything will be okay.
Do not build an economy on nail salons and gold buying, and for heaven's sake, do not build an economy based on casinos. Instead of restoring what is broken, let us build a future based on justice.
Then, for the sake of our children, let us live into it.