It’s Not Just the Economy

It is impossible to open a newspaper, turn on the television or even peruse a fashion magazine without hearing news about the current economic crisis. And with good reason, considering the magnitude of the crisis and its capacity to affect people in all walks of life all over the world. The stories range from the sensational — Madoff’s incredible Ponzi scheme — to the complex — derivatives and sub-prime mortgages — but the news is everywhere.

However, the economy is not just always on the news, it is taking over the news. This crisis seems to be the only thing on the minds of journalists, fashion editors and the general public. Even Perez Hilton posts daily reminders of job losses along with celebrity gossip. Of course, as we face this severe recession, or depression as some call it, it is important that we focus on these problems that plague Americans, and continue to work towards a solution. But if we continue to focus only on this downturn, we will soon find ourselves overwhelmed with the other problems facing this nation. The political problems that the Obama administration will soon face, the same problems Obama promised to solve in his campaign, still remain and will only get worse with less attention and a failing economy.

When Middle East expert and Obama adviser Dennis Ross came to speak to Colgate this fall, I asked him after his lecture why he thought the Arab-Israeli conflict had not been extensively debated during the election. He replied, rather condescendingly, that people don’t really care about Israel when the economy is spiraling downward. While it would be disrespectful to expect Americans who are having trouble putting food on the table to explore the complexities of the Middle East, I do expect politicians and policymakers like Dennis Ross to consider these issues and put forth their ideas, even during a recession.

Today, the Arab-Israeli conflict is making headlines, but it took a brutal war and humanitarian crisis to do so. In that way, the current war in Gaza resembles the economic crisis: it took a huge shock to the system to get the public to pay attention. Clearly, the policymakers and the public they serve have a one-track mind. But with the massive bureaucracy in our government, the amount of talent in our institutions and the technology to access vast stores of information, we should not begin discussions of ideas, issues or systems when they have already failed.

In addition to our failing economy, there is increasing violence among drug cartels in Mexico that threatens American stability. Millions of Americans still do not have health insurance and the number is increasing with unemployment. Many Americans can not afford a good education as schools in impoverished areas continue to underperform and university tuitions are going up faster than family incomes. Soldiers continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These issues are not going to disappear, even if the media, academia and the general public ignore them for a while. At first, this may seem too daunting a task in the midst of this recession, but compounded with a bad economy, these issues will only become more pressing.

If our nation and the media would use their massive resources to explore these issues now and begin to work toward a solution instead of waiting for the equivalent of a stock market crash, we may find ourselves actually prepared for the next crisis.