Both the upside and the downside of capitalism has always been its emphasis on the individual. On the one hand, it is that emphasis which leads to efficiency, innovation and in this case, productivity. On the other hand, there are always some who get left behind, which is what is happening right now.
And it is likely to stay this way for quite some time. The President gave the GOP the tax cut extension they wanted a few months ago in return for some economic stimulus for 2011. But this is not going to put people back to work at nearly a fast enough pace. He won’t likely get another dime of stimulus in 2012 when the nation will be more acutely attuned to the question of how the economy is progressing, which will mean both that the jobs picture will likely worsen next year as the stimulus dries up and that Obama’s chances of winning a second term will be very grim. The unemployment rate will still likely be above 8% on election day, and that seems to be a historic threshold which an incumbent needs to get below if he wants another term.
Meanwhile, corporate profits are booming, conspicuous consumption is back “in” among the elite and the GOP is feeling confident that they can slash the public safety net to shreds, as well as dismantle what little significant opposition to their agenda remains in the labor movement.
We simply have to cultivate a vision of the good that encompasses more than the well-being of individuals. Religious communities have historically been at the forefront of crafting such a vision, but in the present instance, the dominant Christian tradition has largely been silenced in the US by having been co-opted into a promotion of the same kind of individualism so rampant already in the society, such that an alternative vision of the the good gets little attention.