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.