Before the current economic crisis is over, Ben Bernanke is likely to become one of the most reviled figures in American history. Bernanke’s popularity meltdown is still in the future, and a future administration may well encourage Bernanke to resign before his term expires.
None of this future scorn heaped upon Bernanke will be justified. No, Bernanke is not doing a good job; he should be held accountable for his failures. Yet, if Ben Bernanke was removed from office today, nothing would change. The nature of the problems we face will not change until the systemic conditions that created the problems change. And the systemic conditions that we face are a function of our, not so easily changed, collective beliefs.
A Course in Miracles, a modern statement of the perennial spiritual wisdom, cautions, “Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated.”
The Course goes on to say this about how every ego sees the world:
He is the victim of this “something else,” a thing outside himself, for which he has no reason to be held responsible. He must be innocent because he knows not what he does, but what is done to him. And he cannot escape because its source is seen outside himself.
Now you are being shown you can escape. All that is needed is that you look upon the problem as it is, and not the way you have set it up. How could there be another way to solve a problem that is very simple, but has been obscured by heavy clouds of complication, which were made to keep the problem unresolved?
As a society, we absolutely refuse to “look upon the problem as it is.” The “heavy clouds of complication” are our false beliefs that keep our problems unresolved.
When hurricane Katrina struck, the press and the public were quick to be outraged over Michael Brown’s poor performance as the director of FEMA. To this day, there is little reflection on the basic fact of life that a government bureaucracy is incapable of being a nimble, responsive agency. Those who rise to the top of these agencies rise because of their political connections and not because of their competence. The bureaucracy itself is by nature more interested in serving itself than in serving the public. And so in the case of Katrina, church groups and the Red Cross were far more responsive to the disaster than the government ever was.
If you ever played a sport on a team that lacked mature coaching and whose players were immature, the experience was painful. That team would look for scapegoats and would heap scorn on the player who had a poor performance in a clutch situation. Collectively, we are like drunken sports fans who seek to find one scapegoat rather than reflect on the deeper causes behind poor performances.
Similarly, day after day, pundits tell us that our problems can be solved by somehow stabilizing housing prices or forcing them up again. We are told that those who bought houses that they could not afford are victims. We are told that those who spent their home equity on new SUVs and vacations deserve bailouts. We are told that Wall Street and banks should be insulated from losses. We are told that we should elect a candidate who is illiterate about economics and has no record of accomplishing anything, because he acts presidential and promises hope. We are told that the same government that gave us the disaster of ethanol, can better figure out what will replace fossil fuels than can entrepreneurs. We are told by politicians who place their children in private schools that school choice is a bad thing. We are told that corporations like Wal-Mart, which make the lives of hundreds of millions better off, are evil; and that politicians who create problems and enrich themselves in the process are dedicated public servants.
And because much of the public believes some or all of the above, there is no way out of our current economic crisis. To be precise, there are ways out—just none that the public will consider. The public clearly would like to go on believing, until it no longer can, that it is the innocent victim of a bad economy of which it has no part in creating. And the other belief that goes with claiming innocence, is the belief that politicians who promise more of the same will provide a miracle solution that involves something other than our collective change of heart.
In their insightful and illuminating book Mobs, Messiahs and Markets William Bonner and Lila Rajiva observe:
If there is one thing we know about the sentiment of crowds, it is that they change. Today it is greed. Tomorrow it is fear. But rarely is it doubt. So when mass sentiment goes negative, it goes completely negative. People stop worrying about the return on their money and begin to be concerned about the return of their money.
It has been a long time since that sort of fiery comet has come around and people have forgotten the sense of awe and dread it inspires, as it announced the end of the world. They can’t quite imagine what that may be like. They will have to see it again for themselves. It is only a matter of time.
Even a cursory study of history reveals that most people who have ever walked this earth have experienced that “fiery comet.” Like Americans today most falsely proclaimed themselves as innocent. And like everyone who proclaims themselves as innocent we will seek for those to blame—foreign and domestic enemies that help bury our collective refusal to examine our false beliefs.