Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is Phil Gramm right?

Or maybe we could call this manufactured outrage III.

Phil Gramm recently said that there was no recession, and that we are a nation of whiners. Now, leaving aside the predictable how dare he say that reaction, does he have a point?

In a word, yes. It isn't that some people aren't experiencing real hardship. But if we look at our current economic troubles compared to the seventies, we see that we've got things pretty easy. Inflation and unemployment are both more tame than they were. The destruction of wealth through decreasing home values might be a real problem, but if you don't plan to move and can handle your mortgage payments, you're not really suffering. And if you've been renting all this time because you couldn't afford to buy, well, now is your chance.

The fact is, a lot of our problems--high gas prices, mortgage troubles--are caused by decisions we made. If you decided to live 50 miles from where you work, and you bought a car that gets 12 miles to the gallon to make that commute, well, you did that to yourself. If you bought a house you couldn't afford assuming that real estate always goes up, that was your mistake. Being hungover is not the same as being sick.

This is the irony: If our problems were caused by forces beyond our control, we might simply chalk it up to misfortune and get on with it. But instead, since much of our suffering can at least in part be traced to our own choices, we whine in order to avoid having to take responsibility for our actions. In so doing, we avoid having to changes in how we live.