Plus ça Change, Plus C'est la Même Chose

–Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (January, 1849)

CR Lawn, 2010

Two years ago here I likened our economic malaise to a violent swift storm, hoping it would disperse excess humidity, clear the air and bring fresh breezes. Now, it looks more like the aftermath of a lengthy nor’easter, with angry clouds and overcast skies persisting unbroken from here to the horizon. Nor has it cleared the air, leaving us at risk for a more virulent sequel, the dreaded back-to-back storm scenario that we’re quite familiar with in New England. Our nation has barely acknowledged, let alone addressed, the real causes of our economic woes.

Instead, we’ve bailed out the banks, rewarding the very financial institutions whose unchecked greed precipitated the crisis, mandated health care “reform” that will strengthen the bloated insurance industry at the expense of our shrinking middle class, and may enact food “safety” legislation or rule-making that will jeopardize the continued momentum of our sustainable local food initiatives by burdening small farmers and processors with expensive regulations without adequately addressing the real safety problems built into our overly centralized industrial food system.

As we have learned to our sorrow, the word “change” is neutral. Karr (1808–1890), French journalist and floriculturalist, founder of the cut flower trade on the French Riviera, was right. Without clear social objectives, good directions and sufficient courage, “change” will simultaneously create better conditions in some areas and worse in others.

Even if we wished, we can’t go back to an economy based on unsustainable levels of credit. We lack the means and we lack the confidence. On our farms, trickle-down may be a good way to irrigate, but in our economy it is only a good way to irritate. No wonder our political discourse leads us to one sullen ill-mannered impasse after another!

Do you know that from 1954–1963 the marginal income tax rate for individuals in the top bracket was 91% and from 1965–1981 70%? These rates didn’t prevent our nation from enjoying its longest period of relative prosperity, in fact they aided and abetted that outcome. Now we hear dire forecasts from the Tea Party that President Obama’s modest proposal to restore the rate to a whopping 38.5% from its present 35% will cripple the economy even though it affects only our wealthiest 2%. He ought to raise it to 60%!

Change I can believe in?

  • Redistribute our income through fair progressive taxation.
  • Revamp global trade agreements to bring back our jobs.
  • Rebuild our infrastructure to manufacture real goods.
  • Revitalize our food system to de-centralize, re-localize and re-energize.