Proposals on the Economy

Let's scrutinize the pursuit of profit in our institutions



When the coronavirus pandemic subsides, and if we keep our wits about us, we’ll begin to reboot our economy. Even now, it’s high time to rethink our economy. I’d like to suggest two proposals for this project. One proposal is modest enough. The other, admittedly, is entirely and flagrantly immodest.

First comes the modest proposal. It is controversial; still, it is modest at least in that it’s quite familiar. We can also, as Boris Johnson has done in lauding the UK’s National Health Service, point to examples where it has been put into play, albeit wounded by “the abortion distortion.”

Ready, then? My modest proposal is that we intensify public scrutiny of the pursuit of profit in institutions built for the common good. Mona Chalabi, writing in The Guardian, has recently shown us, with solid statistics, how surprisingly weak the US is both in its number of hospital beds and medical doctors. Indeed, our overall life expectancy is lower than we might think. Medical profiteering serves us poorly.

Now comes an immodest proposal. (I’ll pause for a nod to Jonathan Swift, who “modestly” proposed that the Irish their eat babies. And why? Both to save their economy and lessen the number of papists.) To introduce my proposal, I will contrast it with President George Bush’s advice after the horror of 9/11. To keep the economy going, he urged us “to go shopping more.”

I propose something very different, and it comes in two phases. Phase One: Let’s clamp down on buying and spending. Instead, let’s ramp up our making and growing, our renewing and repairing. Where to start? Why not, as many already are, bake bread at home? And maybe brew our own beer as well.

With Phase Two, we raise the bar. The proposal’s immodesty becomes flagrant. Let’s observe the seventh and tenth commandments. Let’s stop stealing and stop coveting. Doing so, of course, will be a lot tougher than learning to bake and brew.

Consequences, initially dire but subsequently delightful, come to mind. Education, in the form of re-education, will be in high demand. We’ll need to retrain legions of security guards; we’ll also need to reconfigure for other purposes their paraphernalia, electronic and otherwise. On the bright side, though, there will be lots of new openings for teachers.

Of course, the mind boggles at the prospect of our not coveting. Advertising agents will no longer generate artificial desires or encourage our incipient envy. Our garish signage, throughout the land, will be cut in half. More need for re-education. More openings for teachers!

And for all of us, if I can rephrase Wordsworth’s The World Is Too Much With Us, there will be ample fruits. We’ll live in a world in which we are less tempted to lay waste our powers. It will be a world in which we can more easily see a Nature that is ours. We’ll be more in tune with the Sea that bares her bosom to the moon. We’ll better hear the music of the winds and see the beauty of the flowers. We will no longer be pagans suckled in a consumerist creed. Rather we will have glimpses that make us less forlorn.

After not so long a time, the weary world will rejoice anew!


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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