If students are looking for an acceptable way to react when they return to campus in August, they might do well to rent the original Planet of the Apes.
When Charlton Heston finally sees the Statue of Liberty and realizes that the weird, strange world he crashed onto was once the United States, he falls to his knees and cries out to the sky.
Those who return in August might feel comparably bleak about the state of their country. While they were away, on internships or taking naps, the public mood soured. Eight of ten Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. According to the Economist, three-fourths of the economic gains under the past 8 years have been given to the top 1 percent of earners. And while Bushs Nixonian approval rating is often thrown around, only 14 percent of Americans approve of Congress, the entity that was supposed to save us from him. The funny thing is, recent trends seem to suggest that it's precisely these people were asking for help.
Energy is expensive, and people are feeling the crunch in their own daily lives. That means politicians, confronted with a national malaise, realize that if they want to keep their jobs they will have to conjure good news.
The most recent act to that effect is the Home Energy Affordability Tax Relief Act, currently being considered in Congress, which gives a tax credit for 1/3 of a homes energy costs (capped at $500).
Most voters of our generation dont remember what a recession is like, or understand that weve so far avoided one. To them, a glitch in an otherwise never ending cycle of prosperity seems like the world has stopped turning. Panic seems to be the result. People shout that high energy prices will cripple us all, that the economy will buckle, and look for scapegoats faster than they can find proof to back it up. Politicians jump on board, attacking speculators.
The truth is, were the ones whove been speculating. It was we who fell into a culture of debt, bought ludicrously inefficient SUVs, and were so greedy with the housing bubble that there is actually a show called Flip this House on A&E. The government is no less guilty.
What we need now is the freedom to learn our lesson, not more government intervention to soften the blow. Prosperity doesnt breed wisdom, its the other way around, and the American notion of us being captains of our fate, masters of our destiny, is appealing mostly in times of upswing. But when were scared, giving up control seems the easiest thing to do. So we allow wire-tapping, government buyouts for Bear Stearns and bailouts for supposedly independent housing lenders things that would never fly in better times.
Bailouts only create a moral hazard, energy subsidies only prevent us from building more sustainable transportation, and alleviating us American speculators of bust investments means nothing will be learned. In a few years, when things get back to normal, self-determination will sound pretty good. We just have to keep in the drivers seat until then.