The Salem News
---- — The Christmas season begins officially for me on Thursday, the Feast of good St. Nicholas, or as we call it back home in western Pennsylvania, “Belsnickle.” Time for my annual insistence that “Peace on earth to men of goodwill” is a better slogan than “Peace on earth, good will to men.” The better version assumes the recipient has been nice, not naughty, and is therefore deserving of peace instead of incarceration, or at least removal from elective office.
While it’s very jolly to watch the Obamacare debacle — for those of us who haven’t yet lost our health insurance — mostly, politics won’t be so merry. Next week the latest bipartisan congressional committee has a deadline for the latest plan to head off another government shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis. Here’s a cheery holiday message for you: Bloomberg reports that “Negotiators have little chance of breaking this string of futility.”
Meanwhile, here at the state, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts reports that the bipartisan Tax Fairness Commission definitely seems to be defining fairness as a graduated income tax, but it’s looking at everything including Proposition 21/2. And though the final count on the latest initiative petitions hasn’t been released as I write this, Gov. Patrick has already declared war on the petition to stop the automatic gas tax increase. Just push those taxpayer activists over the cliff on a sled, Gov. Grinch. I predict that Christmas will come anyhow.
Yes, it’s time for the annual battles on removing Christ from Christmas, lighting “holiday trees” for some reason, having nothing to do with the centuries-old celebration of the birth of Jesus. And look, there are sales at the mall, people standing in line, wait, are they fighting over the 50-inch televisions? Peace on Earth indeed.
I could never understand why some people didn’t love Christmas as much as I did, but if it weren’t for the lights in the neighborhood windows, the cards/newsletters from old friends, Celine Dion singing “O Holy Night” and, of course, the recurring lessons learned by Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch, I might be starting to dread the month of December myself.
Never mind. I’ll take a break for a favorite pastime, reading the comics right here in this very newspaper. This past week, my attention was caught by an “Arlo & Janis” that addressed something that’s been bothering me since forever. It’s always in the background of many a political conversation, but I’ve never seen it laid out the way it is in the comic strip.
Janis seems to be heading out shopping, and Arlo says, “One weekend of ginned-up spending, mostly on things no one really needs! But if there’s not enough spent, the economy tanks! Does that make any sense?”
Janis replies, “OK, so what’s your solution?” and Arlo grumps, “Just because I don’t have a solution doesn’t mean there’s not a problem!”
On one side of the political spectrum, you have a call to “growth,” the raising of capital for bigger, better, faster products; the exhortation to face everything from recession to terrorist attack by spending money, even if you have to borrow it. On the other side, you have complaints about “consumerism/mindless consumption,” the industrial world’s selfish purchase of unnecessary items while so many in the world lack even the basic needs. The new pope, like others before him, has just deplored the “idolatry of money,” while U.S. bishops continue to speak out against budget cuts.
And as that battle rages, only Janis and Arlo have told us that there’s no solution and, therefore, no point in fighting. Life could be very simple if we returned to the simple agrarian economy of our long-ago ancestors, who enjoyed, if that is the word, full employment just feeding themselves and providing adequate living conditions.
But we don’t want to go back there. It was a giant step forward for mankind when there was enough left over that men could exchange the fruits of their simple labors with others who had begun to acquire specialized skills. People bought surplus food, shoes, tools, things with wheels and then things of beauty that seemed to have no purpose but our joy in observing or playing with them.
But are we still having fun yet? The simple marketplace in the village square has become not only the shopping mall, but the advertising that assaults our attention through our radios, televisions and computers, as economists warn that if we don’t listen and respond, our economy will stall. This means in the United States, jobs will be lost or not created; worse things will happen in other countries.
As moralists deplore our spending on luxury items, low-wage workers in many nations feed their families by producing these luxury goods. I’ve had my eye on a cerulean leather purse in a catalog of Third World goods; can’t imagine paying $128 for a purse, but my purchase would be helpful to those poor people in India who raise the cattle and handcraft the purse, not to mention whatever entity in the chain of import/export gets the bulk of my purchase price.
Arlo is right about so many things: sometimes, there is no solution. This is no reason not to wish a Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah and, certainly, Peace, to men of good will.
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.