What Now, America?

2 04 2009

By Jill Ettinger

Like most Americans, I’ve been consumed with news about the circus our financial system has become, realizing this is probably just the first act of a much bigger show. And like many, I’ll admit my extremely limited knowledge of Wall Street dealings was never much of a concern to me. Yes, I’ve read Matt Taibbi’s enlightening piece in Rolling Stone (April 2009 issue) and Jake DeSantis’ resignation letter to AIG reprinted in the New York Times. I watch The Daily Show and even caught the hilarious latest episode of South Park where Stan tries desperately to return his father’s “Margaritaville” machine all the way down the line to the Treasury Department. And while I now have a much better understanding of what actually is happening to our economy, I’m even more confused as to what I should feel about it all. If I’m angry, who exactly am I angry with? Certainly the greedy criminals who gambled with millions of people’s money deserve any and all punishment that comes their way, but weren’t most of their actions perfectly legal? Should I be disappointed at a political system that bends to lobbyists and corporations that bankroll elected officials so that they can continue doing the things that they’ve done? Should I be chagrined with myself and my fellow Americans for not really paying attention to what we were allowing to happen?

Perhaps because I grew up without much money, I learned to find wealth in things other than yachts, private jets, gaudy jewels or fur coats. I likened those possessions to movie-stuffs, not real goals for real people. I consider myself more of a laughing-listening-to the-birds-on-spring-mornings-singing-songs-in-the-sun kind of gal. Sure, this won’t pay the bills, but it won’t create new ones either. It feels more like a straight karmic exchange of finding incredible value in the simplicity of the moment, and I feel better and clearer and more connected to the world around me when the joys of life come without a price tag. My naivete about the wealthy people allowed me to believe they are philanthropists, spending their time volunteering at hospitals, not really out spending $3000 on a single pair of shoes. That is simply too preposterous to be true, in any economic state.

At times, I’ve had a comfortable amount of savings in the bank, affording me the options of going where I wanted, or buying what I needed from Whole Foods without worrying (too much) about the cost. But most often, I’ve lived needing a regular job just to keep a roof over my head. It seemed perfectly fine to me to measure my riches by waking up in a warm bed and having a hot shower and cup of tea every morning before I start my day. I’m painfully aware of the number of people in the world, and in our own country, who go without these things.

As the market keeps holding its breath, the industry I have made my living in has begun to show the first signs of slowing down since I started working in a food co-op eighteen years ago. My last job, doing marketing and promotions for a leading organic juice company, was eliminated a few weeks ago. It made perfectly legitimate sense to me: operations are key for a business to run effectively, and you must have sales people to keep revenue coming in, but marketing is abstract, hard to measure, especially when every single dollar feels more sacred than ever before. Admittedly, I felt somewhat relieved by the news. I had begun to question the very industry I’d literally grown up in.

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