Although they are often idealized, small towns have problems — usually economic ones. As a blogger, one of the downsides of reading reports and statistics is the information can be overwhelmingly depressing, especially when you try to make sense of the conflicting numbers.
For example, despite a four percent unemployment rate in Preble County (where I live), 45 percent of the residents cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment. The low unemployment coupled with the housing situation, suggest that the employed are under-employed and attempting to get by on low-wage jobs.
But we Americans are slow to accept reality or change our perception — we prefer to quote stats. After all, they are the facts. Preble County does have a four percent unemployment rate.
Seeing, But Not Seeing
One of my favorite literary figures is Sherlock Holmes. Part of the universal appeal of Sherlock is his uncanny ability to see the obscure in the obvious. Most of us are more like his sidekick Dr. Watson, we see all the same elements as Holmes, but we cannot connect the dots, because just like Watson, we see but do not observe.
But, I Know What I See
We are familiar with the various double images that challenge our visual perception. One classic example is the photo to the right which is either an elderly or young woman depending on your viewing angle. We get a sense of satisfaction when we uncover both images.
When I began writing about history, politics and genealogy it was out of a sincere desire to better understand my heritage and my country. That drive has only deepened as I have delved more thoroughly into America’s past and her politics. But it is also disheartening at times, when I see the same old arguments being levied against this or that position. These old, familiar claims have been used, and reused, by political powers of all persuasions to keep people agitated, irritated and confused, but mostly to keep people just where they are.
Who Do You Know?
When I look at the community I handed off to my daughter and her peers, I question what they were given. I also question who they look up to – do they know anyone who has achieved the American Dream? Do you know anyone? Do I? Results speak much louder than political policies.
I live in a District that does not have a Congressman in the House. Former Speaker John Boehner stepped down after 25 years in office and the Ohio governor decided we would elect a new Congressman in June. Even though experts say the length of vacancy is excessive, I’m not sure it matters.
Boehner is a powerful man and a money-raising machine. In the last election cycle Boehner generated more than $100 million for the GOP (Boehner’s Democrat counterpart is just as successful in this game). Today, though, Boehner is not retired playing golf in Florida, he is fundraising. It’s almost as if his sponsors said, enough with your day job, John, we need new funds.
Zero Sum Game
And when it comes to money, politicians have convinced Americans that the U.S. economy works like their checkbook. With our checkbooks, money comes in, money goes out. We make choices – often difficult choices. Do I pay for this and put off paying that? It’s what’s known as a zero-sum game. At the end of the day the checkbook must balance.
The U.S. economy is significantly more complicated than that – it is filled with elements like currency manipulation, tariffs, inflation, deflation and the federal reserve, to name just a few. It is not a zero-sum game. It is not a checkbook. Because of its complicated web of rules and regulations, some companies can thrive for years, like Amazon, without posting a profit.
Simply put, it is a different set of rules.
Politicians, though, love to explain the American economy as a zero-sum game because people understand a checkbook. Astute politicians exploit this, telling people that to pay for this — funds must be taken from that — all the while hiding the fact, that in many cases, the money is sitting in the till — or that an untapped source of income is simply forgoing tax abatements for wealthy corporations. (According to U.S. law, corporations are citizens, but unlike flesh-and-blood citizens, many wealthy corporate citizen enjoy a tax-free or tax-subsidized life.)
Look at your own paycheck and add up the tax dollars being skimmed off the top. Before you fall back onto some political position or argument – and say this or that group is getting all your tax dollars — take a drive through your community — down the main street of your hometown. Look at the employment opportunities in your region. What kind of jobs exist for you or your children. Look at the infrastructure. Look at the hard scape – those buildings, roads, water-processing plants and other essential elements needed for a strong economy. Look at your home and the homes in your area. Look at the level of affluence, wealth or poverty that exists near or around you.
Then ask yourself, who let this happen? Your neighbor?
Whenever decline is slow and steady, it’s difficult to pin all the blame on any one person or one party. The root cause is more complicated. This is because the source of long-term decline is a series of people and a series of choices over the course of decades. In short, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Maybe, instead of just blaming ‘the government,’ it’s time all of us who vote, connect the dots like Holmes — and figure out who’s winning.
We already know who’s losing.
In my youth, I went to a newly constructed elementary school, played ball at the new Little League field that was adjacent to the community swimming pool. Although the local village was small, it had nice amenities, like the pool, and a unique local flavor with its mom-and-pop diners, taverns, sundry store, grocery, filling stations and barber shops. Today, the pool is filled in with dirt and a couple national chain stores have replaced the mom-and-pop businesses. I examine why in Cast Aside.