I was reviewing the Uni student newspaper where I teach part-time and got very annoyed by a passing headline, "An Economy that Doesn't Deserve Bailing Out". David Brooks—one of my favourite New York Times columnists—summarizes nicely why I think this kind of cold hearted and isolating cynicism is profoundly inappropriate in thinking Christians.
In his piece today on The Formerly Middle Class Brooks aptly notes that some people think recession is good because it means a moral revival—that Americans will learn to live without material extravagance and simplify their lives, rediscovering "home, friends and family".
This is a very naive impression of 'recession', and betrays the fundamental political, economic and cultural illiteracy of Christian moralists. Recessions breed more than Wendell Berry's idealist agrarianism—they breed pessimism. Birthrates drop and suicide rates rise. Recessions are about fear, and diminished expectations.
Brooks argues that it is the recently mobile middle class that will feel it, especially in developing economies where millions of people have climbed out of poverty. This recession is pushing them back down. What kind of form will this disillusionment take? Will it be the populism and nativism of the 1880s and 1890s, with the apocalyptic forebodings and collectivist movements crushing individual rights? Or the cynicism of the 1970s when Bretton Woods fell apart, and the oil shock rocked the global economy? Presciently Brooks asks, "Will the Obama administration spend much of its time battling a global protest movement that doesn't even exist yet?"
It will not merely the material deprivations that will bite, but the loss of social identity, networks, status symbols and social order. Naive young undergraduates can have the luxury of bemoaning a consumerist North American capitalism which is "finally getting what it deserves", but my heart breaks when I hear them disassociate themselves from their politics, their culture, and their nation—as though somehow they bear no common responsibility to pursue justice in the public sphere. Real people, with real loves and desires are being hurt, and spiraling into psychological and social cacoons—people are afraid and alone, and we're gloating.
Shame on us.