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The ongoing crisis: a reality check

Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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With the carnage on Wall Street continuing at a jaw-dropping pace and retirees and folks like me, who aspire one day to be a retiree, wondering how devastated stock portfolios might ever recover, a fella could be forgiven this week for investing a few moments in some serious self-pity. (This mournful investor sure has; talk about buyer's remorse!) Only approrpriate really after decades of national self-delusion reflected by our "what-me-worry" approach to deficit spending and deregulation.

Don't get me wrong: a world of hurt is opening up before a lot of working- to middle-class folks in America whose savings, 401ks, and home equity are crumbling before their smarting eyes because of this nearly incomprehensible market collapse. I feel their pain. No kidding, I do.

What most of us, so distracted by our own worries now, are not realizing, however, is that a world of hurt is already out there in the ongoing crises of hunger, poverty, and commodity-export fueled violence in the developing world.

Even before this market crisis began, food prices had been spiraling out of reach of the poorest in the global economy, propelling hunger and personal insecurity and destablizing already shaky societies in every hemisphere—particularly one of our nearest neighbors Haiti. Meanwhile the overall campaign against global want seems to have lost some steam in recent years.

The UN and World Bank have been urging greater support for the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty and mitigating its worst excesses in health, hunger, welfare, and education by 2015. That means nearly doubling the foreign aid packages currently being offered by most of the First World economies now wounded and engrossed by the dominoing failures within their financial sectors.

It's hard to imagine now, after the inevitable belt tightening which will follow in the coming "market hangover" years, that anti-poverty campaigns long planned (many of which were on the cusp of powerful breakthroughs, e.g., efforts against malaria and polio) will be funded to the level that offers a chance of success. Instead, unfortunately, we are likely to see personal charitable donations and government foreign aid end up the first items on the budget cutting block while defense spending the world over remains perversely, sinfully sacrosanct.

That's a pity, not only because of the personal suffering it will engender, but because the surest, most cost effective means of securing a just and peaceful future begins with judicious and equitable distribution of economic resources. Even in the face of this crisis, we need to continue those small investments for peace, out of the mercy of our hearts and the wisdom of our own foresight, or we can continue our short-sighted and costly disbursements on defense, anti-investments which will only secure future instability, enmity, and misery.

We are all likely to suffer in the coming months and years as the good ship capitalism attempts to wring itself off the treacherous reef we've struck, but the first to suffer and those likely to suffer the most are the people suffering the most already, the hungry, the poor, the uneducated, the poor in health and spirit, whether in Chicago or Nairobi or Jakarta. We in the first world who will be tempted to put them at the bottom of our priority lists as we sort out this mess do so to their peril—and to ours.