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Yard Sale Nation: The Change Required to Salvage U.S Society Runs Much Deeper Than Most Imagine

Say goodbye to the 'consumer society.' Familiar touchstones of contemporary American life have to go. No more fast money and no more credit.
 
 
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 Barack has Obama stepped into the shoes of Lincoln, FDR, Millard Fillmore and forty other predecessors -- this time as the wished-for Mr. Fix it of a nation run into a ditch. Surely over the months of transition, someone with a clear head and a fact-laden portfolio has clued-in the new President about the reality-based state-of-the-Union -- as opposed, say, to the Las Vegas version, where Santa Clause presides over a whoredom of something-for-nothing economics, and all behaviors are equally okay, and consequence has been sliced-and-diced out of the game … where, in the immortal words of Milan Kundera, anything goes and nothing matters.

Mr. Obama deserves credit for a lot of things, but perhaps most amazingly his ability to see "hope" in a public so demoralized by their own bad choices that the USA scene has devolved to a non-stop Special Olympics of everyday life, where absolutely everybody is debilitated, deluded, challenged, or needs a leg up, or an extra buck, or a pallet on the floor, or a gastric bypass, or a week in detox, or a head-start, or a fourth strike, or a $150-billion bailout. There's a lot of raw material from sea to shining sea, admittedly, but how do you re-shape it into a population guided by a sense of earnest purpose, with reality-based expectations, with habits of delayed gratification and impulse control, and a sense of their own history? That will be quite a trick. Many of us -- myself included -- will be pulling for Barack. Maybe the power of his rhetoric and his sheer buff physical presence can whip this republic of overfed clowns into shape.

He inherits a government of superficially gleaming marble edifices -- all gloriously on view tomorrow -- but full of broken machinery within, infested with weevils, termites, and rats. The USA is functionally bankrupt. We have no money. The pixel "money" being emailed over to the insolvent banks has no basis in reality beyond the quiver in Ben Bernanke's voice as he announces each new injection. Yet all reports so far indicate that President Obama is bent on continuing the process one way or another.

Mr. Obama's first task taking stage in the lonely Oval Office should be to get right with his own credo of "change," meaning he'll have to persuade the broad American public that the "change" required to salvage this society runs much deeper, colder, and thicker than they'd imagine in their initial transports over hallelujah-Bush-is-Gone. Many of the familiar touchstones of the recent American experience have got to go.

Say goodbye to the "consumer society." We're done with that. No more fast money and no more credit. The next stop is "yard-sale nation," in which all the plastic crapola accumulated over the past fifty years is sorted out for residual value and, if still working, sold for a fraction of its original sticker price. This includes everything from Humvees to Hello Kitty charm bracelets.

It will be a very salutary thing if we stop even referring to ourselves as "consumers." This degrading moniker, used for decades unthinkingly by everyone from The New York Times Nobel Prize pundits to the Econ 101 section men of the land-grant diploma mills has been such a drag on our collective development that it has extinguished the last latent flickers of duty, obligation, and responsibility for the greater good in a republic of broken communities shattered by WalMarts.

The government will not have to do a thing to bring down the chain-stores. History and inertia is already on that case, with the easy credit racket terminated and new frictions arising over global trade, and even Peak Oil waiting to work its hoodoo behind the scrim of deceptively temporarily low pump prices. The larger question for President Obama is: how can we collectively promote the reconstruction of Main Street, including all the fine-grained layers of retail and wholesale trade. High tech "solutions" are not likely to avail in this.

 
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