My son downloaded “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen with Tom Morello on my iPod a couple of months ago. During this past Thanksgiving week, we went together to see Morello perform as The Nightwatchman. With all due respect to The Boss, Morello now owns this song. As we all countdown to Jan. 20, these lyrics in the headline above may serve as the best anthem for the transition from the Bush legacy of a wrecked economy to our collective Obama hopes for change.
As Citibank reaches out for the latest lifeline in billions, homeowners remain adrift in a rising sea of foreclosures. The Chicago Tribune on Thanksgiving (Nov. 27, 2008) ran a chart breaking out the $8.5 TRILLION that the U.S. government has committed to rescuing Wall Street and our “crippled financial system.” And you thought it was only Henry Paulson’s $700 billion.
Stopping foreclosures remains paramount if home values are ever to stabilize. Turning already foreclosed properties into affordable housing is necessary to provide homes for a new forced class of renters and to restore viability to communities plagued with vacant buildings.
Yet as billions are lent and invested in commercial banks, it’s the credit shutdown of small businesses that is now accentuating the economic crisis. A financial system that greedily sold off predatory mortgages in slices has now decided that lending to small businesses is too risky, even though it was exotic “collateralized debt obligations” that brought on this economic chaos in the first place. So now besides “no home,” it’s “no job.” And this time, there is no place for Tom Joad to head to tonight.
The change required is for our financial system to do what was asked of them 30 and 40 years ago — reinvest in America’s communities and do so through fair lending. Plus now, there is a new imperative to reinvest environmentally for a green economy.
President-elect Obama is correctly calling for job-creating public infrastructure and clean-energy investments. As Van Jones notes in The Green Collar Economy, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy can equal “thousands of contracts and millions of jobs — producing billions of dollars of economic stimulus.”
We are at a transitional moment in American history, and it is time for our federal government and financial system to change our investment priorities. Until then, we cannot afford to rest.