Thursday, February 5, 2009

Using the G Word Again

Here's a column I wrote for KC Star's "Midwest Voices," which didn't get published there but by golly now it sees the light of day on Head Rattle:

When our economy melted down like an ice cream cone in July, hardly anybody asked why we were holding that triple-scooper in the first place. We just kept licking furiously as it ran down our arm, looking around sheepishly for some way to clean up the mess.

Let’s get real. We have a super-size problem because we’ve developed a super-size appetite. Like that guy who tried living on a fast food diet for thirty days, saying Yes every time he was asked, “Would you like that super-sized?” The unhealthy consequences are a cautionary tale: Super-size U.S.—Coming Soon to Economies Everywhere!

It’s even affected our appetite for housing. The average American home today is twice the size of homes in the ‘50s. Why? Because we have twice as many children? Hardly. Actually we have far fewer children. So why do we have these humongous home mortgage love handles?

In all the blaming after the meltdown a long-forgotten word gained new currency. Well, two words, actually, melded like red-hot lava: “corporate greed.” Yes, yes, cried the angry horde. They are to blame, those greedy corporations! Down with them, the greedy CEOs!

True, grasping corporations and CEOs who think they’re worth 400 times their workers need a day of reckoning, and may it come soon. But once we’ve removed “corporate” from “corporate greed,” we’ll be face-to-face with, well, ourselves.

Dare we mention the Seven Deadly Sins these days? Few could name them, much less recall in our profit-driven world that Greed is key among them. And even those in the so-called Dark Ages who would have known what we have apparently forgotten: Greed is the Mother of all Sins.

Theologian Phyllis Tickle posted a remarkable essay on this topic in Beliefnet’s “Sin Series”. World religions have declared for centuries that avarice is the root of all evils, she notes, but our national motto has become “United in the Sin of Avarice.”

It’s a painful realization. The majority of us are stockholders these days, either individually or through retirement plans, and lots of us work for corporations. So these are our greedy CEOs, our greedy corporations. And those are our maxed-out credit cards, our wastrel politicians, our gas-guzzling SUVs.

Lots of us hopped on this roller coaster for the giddy ride up; now we’re all going to take the downward plunge together. So go ahead: scream all you like.

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