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Alcoholism and the Economy: A Note to Obama

Recovering alcoholics sometimes say you need to hit rock bottom before true change can begin. That belief underlies some of the optimism I have about the future in this country. I sense that our current crisis may provide amazing opportunity. The common threat that faces all might just bring us together in ways we had not imagined. It is wondrous, for example, that advocates for universal health care now represent voices across the political spectrum.

At the same time, I sincerely hope we don’t blow the opportunity. The rush to spend $850 billion in economic recovery resources does not mean we have to spend the money in the same old way. Just building new roads, work for work’s sake, might indeed create jobs. But can we not take the time to seriously look at our communities and consider how new jobs can actually improve the quality of life for individuals and improve the livability of our communties?

Which side is the old way of doing things?

I took the attached photo awhile back when the City of Bloomington undertook road improvements that, as a consequence, sliced off a corner of one of our most beautiful and interesting cemeteries. Hoagy Carmichael is buried about 250 feet from where the photo was taken. The original concrete wall around this section of the cemetery was constructed by WPA workers. The ghastly faux stone portion without the cap represents our modern “improvement.” Have we lost the capacity to do it right? Have we lost the willingness to invest in the beauty of our public places?

Ivan Illich has argued that our economy, in moving from an industrial to a service base, has systematically “deschooled” us in skills, that, to our blame, may be lost forever. Before the elders who experienced the depression, the WPA, the CCC, have all gone, let’s find out from them how things worked!

Let’s use this amazing economic stimulus to learn again how to lay a good solid wall, how to nurture the center and re-build from within, and how to re-invest in the heart and soul of our communities, …not throw this money at the asphalt industry! By the way…do you know who wrote the music to Heart and Soul? Hoagy!

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