The dust is starting to settle from the economic crisis that started last year, and it is time for a government commission to figure out what went so horribly wrong. Luckily, just such a commission is forming; its chair, former California insurance commissioner Phil Angelides, says they will “leave no stone unturned.”
Unfortunately, the commission’s makeup is not terribly conducive to really getting to the bottom of things. Notorious smart person Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein was not an economist, but this quote seems designed as a warning about this commission.
The commissioners are all insiders, half appointed by Democrats and half appointed by Republicans. They all have been successful in the system that they are now tasked with investigating. All but two are affiliated with regulators, corporations – including Merrill Lynch(!) – and politicians, or they are politicians themselves. The exceptions are a director from the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) and a “Las Vegas businessman.” (just who we need to investigate a financial system that failed due to excessive speculation!)
Where are the people who are at least a little bit outside of the system? Where are voices from outside the political-economic mainstream? Who will ask whether it is wise to have will point out that maybe an economic downturn is better than the alternative, in which we keep burning up our resources until they are gone and we face a catastrophic economic collapse?
In any case, the commission is tasked with figuring out the causes of the crisis by Dec. 15, 2010. We will hopefully be spared further crises while we wait 17 months for their recommendations to Congress, which will then launch into another round of problem solving that will presumably last well into 2011.
So what the heck do we do with this mess?
Ordinarily, I write about positive grassroots solutions, but I have to admit that this one has me stumped. It is just not clear where the bottom is, or even whether there is a bottom. In any case, we cannot afford to wait around for a couple of years. Especially in California, where government services are rapidly dwindling, we need to find ways to take care of each other, without relying on a global system that looks more precarious by the week.