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Eros was Gaia's sexy counterpoint in the beginning, not baby Cupid. Gaia created the earth, said the Greeks.

Eros was Gaia’s sexy counterpoint in the beginning, not baby Cupid. Gaia created the earth, said the Greeks.

I’ll  be presenting my Eros theory of the economy at the Gross National Happiness Conference at UVM in Burlington, Vermont, on May 29 & 30. I’m one of many dozens of presenters, and it looks like two (or four) great days focused on creating a movement. Learn about economics for passionate people and the planet. And then visit the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington, a short walk away.

My workshop aims to empower those intimidated by economics. I devised a basic primer during my work with adult students as a professor of liberal studies at Vermont College; while my training is in writing and literature, I was concerned about language that shapes our thinking about economics, while mystifying it.

Literature’s powerful stories are often entwined with changing perceptions of value and money. As a journalist I have frequently written about economic policies and the persistent poverty of women; I’ve published a novel, Second Sight that examines the uses of violence, including economic violence, to control us. Women in particular tend to be intimidated and avoid economics. Yet few of either gender relishes admitting to what isn’t understood in a climate of experts’ mystifying language.

Gross National Happiness as a counter to the Gross National Product had long been part of my presentations at colleges and conferences. I’m excited about Genuine Progress Indicators recently being added to Vermont’s measures of how we’re doing, and the development of public banking. There’s much to celebrate when you understand what’s at stake and how many are already proposing new paths to a happier future.

Using images,  I’ll show blind spots in male-dominated economic thinking, especially one big omission—biology—ours and the earth’s. I love to deconstruct economics, and have fun unlocking the subject through language and story.

For instance, the earliest creation story of the Greeks said the goddess Gaia created the earth and its life. And next came Eros whose ability to inspire passion and love assured life would continue.  The ecological Gaia theory is now widely recognized: we have “green economists.” But  I argue that Eros must not be forgotten as Gaia’s counterpart.

Eros is defined in the dictionary as sexual and creative drive, but also as “the sum of all instincts for self-preservation.” What might Eros mean to Gaia and our monetary economy? How might we reshape conversations about the economic realm? Is the economy really a war? Or, like our planet Gaia, a complex, self-regulating organism engaged in many sexy exchanges—our actual lives the real bottom line?

Check out the schedule for a two full days of learning–and have fun doing it. Come help build a movement, along with other terrifically happy and inventive, passionate people who care about our planet and all of its lifek–including yours! Here’s the link to what’s happening–register and please pass the news along.

Kunin has run out of patience and it's good

This pre-publication review first appeared in Vermont Woman, WINTER Feb-March, 2012.

I began reporting on Madeleine Kunin soon after she first became Lt. Governor of Vermont  in 1978.  I was then editing a newspaper committed to poverty issues for Community Action. I remember my first time interviewing her on these subjects, finally turning off the tape recorder to remove my reporting hat. I had no intention of being objective when I told her how much her election had personally meant to me as a young woman. I was inspired.

In 1985, a year after Kunin became the first woman governor of Vermont, Sue Gillis began a new newspaper for Vermont women; I became its editor and aimed at women’s empowerment. Governor Kunin was right there for us, supporting the effort with a personal letter that still hangs in my office.

This past week I read the galleys of Kunin’s third book, expected to be out in book stores early in May. We’re the first to report on it—thank you, Chelsea Green Publishers—because, again, I am inspired.  I want every young parent and every grandparent to read it. Look for A New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Familyas soon as spring arrives.


Here is why the book matters:

After serving as governor, Kunin became Deputy Director of the U.S. Education Dept. and was later appointed ambassador to her native Switzerland. When Hitler had risen to power, her widowed mother had brought Madeleine and her brother to the U.S. for safety; they were Jewish. Kunin writes frankly of her mother’s doing piecework at home to make ends meet, and of her gratitude for public schools and colleges that made her education possible.

Kunin’s first two books, one the memoir of her time as governor (Living a Political Life) and the next her account of U.S. women’s political history (Pearls, Politics and Power) are both solid reads that every young woman and every library ought to own. But I confess neither of these were page-turners and in places disappointed me. I was angry for her when I wished for more outspokenness. I thought maybe it was just our different upbringings. She was from a better neighborhood in Switzerland, while I was raised in a working-class Italian home. Maybe that accounted for my wanting more passion and a few more zealous hand jabs.

Cutting to the Chase

This third time out, however, the Governor delivers. She remains an elegant and cool ambassador; never once does she use that old label, sexism. But she gets in some good zingers. And she minces no words for what is needed: revolution. This time she emotes and argues and chats and gossips and asks frank and thoughtful questions of a surprising range of eloquent women and men. They grant us memorable answers and some very smart strategies. Her work brings us a life-time of research and experience.

Now 78, Kunin perhaps grows aware she hasn’t that much more time to make changes she sees must be accomplished. Perhaps she had stronger support in her second spouse, credited in her dedication: “For John, my first reader, editor, constant supporter—and a feminist.” However you account for it, Kunin gets off some sharp comments, completely keeping in style. She remains the grand dame of politics for the benefit of women and families; a believer in government by and of and for all of the people—half of them female and nearly a quarter of them children.

Families and U.S. economic competitiveness is her topic.  She has run out of patience. Early in the introduction she writes about the unprecedented pressures that make family and work an easily-tipped balancing act for American parents.

“Marches, Tweets, letters, lobbyists—every possible means has to be employed to convince the country that these issues are not only “women’s” issues, not only “children’s” issues, which can easily be dismissed with a gentle pat on the head. These are gut economic issues.” Yes, the lady said gut. Yes, she means bucks.

Kunin says this to a nation she describes competing in a global marketplace against workers in over a 150 other nations with strong work support programs: job flexibility, family leave insurance, early education excellence and affordable childcare. She examines the diversity of those other nations’ governments and businesses, their solutions and their problems, always in the context of possibilities here. Our working families run a handicapped race, she argues, forced to pass their children back and forth like balls in play, convinced by our culture that they are in this economic race alone.

This is good neither for workers nor business and certainly not good for developing human capital, our children, and our economic future. Investing in struggling families would not only increase the available talent pool for American business, it would enable women to participate more widely in leadership. She cites numerous studies and numerous financial allies who gained greater economic success with more diversity. This isn’t fantasy: companies lose money and needed skills when they fail to see and support their employees’ whole lives.

Kunin draws on many business leaders, as well as academics and international experts. She believes how well we address these issues today, both through government and private action, “will determine how well we do as a nation tomorrow.”  Some surprises in this included the details of funding what American women have been told is unaffordable. She goes behind the political action of small American successes in California, Washington and New Jersey to discover methods for winning what I would have believed unwinnable.

Building coalitions of more than the usual suspects, her sources inform. She aims at bipartisan support and even bridges the divide between conservative evangelicals and feminists. Her approach doggedly seeks knowledge of what has worked and of what might possibly succeed.

Some Surprises

Early on, she writes this. “Caution: You cannot be too angry.” For instance, she reveals American corporations which operate in other countries must provide family benefits befitting a host-nation’s legal standards. In other words, they grant foreign employees extended paid parental leave, remaining quite profitable, while at the same time they exclude their own American workers. Here whenever a baby is born, parents are forced to punt, out of their own savings, and get back to work as soon as possible, baby be damned.

Babies are our future, she says—and by that she doesn’t mean only our personal babies, our personal future–but the nation’s babies, which equal the nation’s future. We know more now than ever about the crucial significance of those early years’ learning and brain development. Undervalued children become expensive adults. She cites a 2008 Dept. of Defense study of 17-24 year-olds in Mississippi. The study found that 75 percent of them would not be fit to serve as privates in the Army. The three most common reasons for their unfitness was failure to graduate from high school, a criminal record, and physical unfitness, most often obesity.

By contrast, exactly the kind of quality childcare services most American families cannot find—especially at affordable rates—are already being provided to 300,000 lucky American children and their families. The Department of Defense again, seeking an advantage for attracting volunteer soldiers, has quietly been building exactly the sort of licensed childcare support system that American parents would die for—but should they SET ITAL have END ITAL to, literally?

Theirs is an excellent model, Kunin reports, providing a “gold standard” for what is possible. Twenty years ago, 70 percent of their facilities were cited for fire and safety hazards. Today a full 98 percent are top-rate licensed education centers for children six-weeks-old to 12. This licensure rate (with a raft of standards) compares to 8 percent for private daycare. The centers also provide good-paying jobs, not minimum wage ones, with benefits for educators well-trained in child development. Good jobs for early childcare educators not only assure job-readiness for an important workforce, but better assure a smart and ready future. It would make equally good economic sense for other sectors in our country.

One of the most important things Kunin did when she was governor was to appoint women to key cabinet positions, even when their resumes didn’t look the way they were supposed to. SET ITAL Vermont Woman END ITAL got noticed when we first noticed that story, missed by other media. Women worked differently, we said, and Kunin demonstrated this in her priorities, not only naming an unprecedented number of women, but expecting her whole team to collaborate, more than jockey for power, as she coordinated government departments in new ways. Kunin discusses this candidly in her book. For her, politics was not the same old warfare, but something more inclusive and systemic. We thought this a female trait.

But Kunin says now that women alone can never create the needed change. She remembers her own political mentor, the surprising Emory Hebard, a conservative Republican who first gave her a chance. And in that same spirit, she calls on young fathers and grandparents, business owners, financiers, churchgoers and governors to become more conscious and join in a similar collaboration—giving another kind of chance. This one is for young American families and their potential for productive, innovative work. All of us have a country and an economy at stake in this book.

Lately I’ve been ignoring the news, which has been way too full of reports about the “recovering” economy and Wall Street rebounding, while jobs continue to be lost. Here I was, hoping this economy might end up being murdered with an axe. But it appears an unrepentant U.S. capitalism remains here to stay, thanks to Bernanke, Geithner, and the same old privileged male players. So now I’m thinking, if you can’t beat’em, then maybe we’d best join them. America, we need to further commodify our children! This idea may be the secret to families at last gaining a little ground in a capitalist nation.

Our current economic system maintains an old 19th century myth. It continues to separate the private realm from the public realm, as if there should be a wall between them. What do I mean?  This economy faithfully separates our sacred families from the profanity of commerce, the better to avoid sullying the one thing remaining holy: our families and homes. (You know, the same American homes that were sold around the world in derivatives because our financial system was betting against them.)

Victorians of the 19th century held that men were a better fit for the profane and “public sphere” of politics and commerce. Only the fittest could survive there. Regardless of what Darwin had said about what the “fittest” actually meant, Victorian businessmen interpreted it as only “natural” to dominate by whatever ruthless measures were needed. Economic victories went to the strongest and the meanest.

Women, on the other hand, were the weaker sex and needed to be kept out of danger in the “domestic sphere.”  Too much thought in her pretty little head, and all her blood would go to her brain, instead of her womb, leading to hysteria. Doctors diagnosed any woman’s nervous condition the result of a starved uterus. Created by God to be mothers and home-makers, women might be oft-pregnant nurturers (birth control would land you in jail), yet she must remain morally impregnable. Far removed from the vile economy, women provided a safe haven for the harried worker whenever he came home. Here the children could receive proper moral guidance and social enrichment.

Thus the Victorian woman, though officially “dependent” and penniless, was persuaded, despite all appearances, that it was really her hand, not his, that rocked the world by rocking the cradle. And if you believe that, I have a big nuclear warhead I’d like to sell you—and by the way, honey, what’s for dinner?

Women’s liberation has meant so far that women have made some inroads into the male commercial sphere. Yet the domestic sphere of the USA remains stolidly separate from the commercial realm, operated by pure-hearted volunteerism. So today many middle-class homes sit largely unoccupied–except as a place to go after work or school to microwave and watch television.

Ever since the 1970s, Mom has been slaving away on the job market, same as hubby. Was it we feminists who accomplished this hideous undermining of American family life? Some claim so, but statistics clarify a larger reality. Most women went to work to keep the family nose above water. Katha Pollitt reports from A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (the Shriver report from the Center for American Progress):

For the first time in our history, women are now 50% of the paid workforce…Four in ten moms are primary breadwinners… 80% of moms contribute a major chunk of family income.”

That’s because, since the 1970s, men and women workers as a whole have barely remained afloat in a leaky boat. Wages have not kept up with cost-of-living expenses and two workers and 80 hours of labor are now needed to cover a single mortgage payment. Elizabeth Warren reported this week in The Huffington Post what is now common knowledge. Yet what to do?  Since 1970, male wages have been static, and the working class has lost ground. About this, says Warren:

But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago — for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases — but it hasn’t been enough to save them. Today’s families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.

Meanwhile, a sensible 32-hour work week standard, passed by the Senate in 1939 when unions had some say, died and was deeply buried, along with big unions. To many economists, including John Maynard Keynes, shorter work weeks had seemed a logical way to address technology’s elimination of man-hours needed to produce what we need. In fact, a glut of material goods on the market had helped deepen the Depression.

Instead, technology’s dividend went to the wealthy, not to the working class. Instead, workers traded in wages for consuming, sold on technology’s wonders at home (the before-mentioned television and microwave). With wages going lower and jobs going overseas, families had to find a third service job or get a college education or increase their work hours, and that still didn’t help with disappearing health insurance benefits. Sometimes people got sick, and in the USA, we like to pretend we never were children in need of care, and will never get old. The best-managed American health insurance celebrates its “low utilization rates.”

Health maintenance became increasingly unaffordable for the middle and working class, both in time and money. Exercise, physical labor and home-cooked meals get sacrificed to fast-food and big-box consuming. Long commutes to centralized shopping and work required maintaining not one car, but two.

The mythical wall between private and public has contributed to our families’ impoverishment in time, health and money. “Separate spheres,” maintaining that wall betwen public and private, was a sexist  idea that was never true and today seems only truly ridiculous. Radio and TV beam into our homes with commercial messages around the clock. Everyone is already twittering and blogging and being our friend on facebook, 24/7. If we ended the old prudish division between that old commercial sphere and the even older family sphere, women (and children) might at last become more visible players in the world economy.

So let’s face it like capitalists:  Without our economically impoverished private family sphere, none of the public economic sphere could happen. The hand that rocks the cradle does rock the world—it just doesn’t follow that such a high mission should never sully itself with financial reward. By that reasoning, doctors, nuclear physicists and CEOs should also eschew high salaries.

Therefore, I propose that when anyone comes of age to get a job—or signs up in the armed services to put their lives on the line for our economic freedom and more global consuming—the parents who invested their time and their money into that individual’s healthy and socialized upbringing should get a dividend. The worker should get wages for his or her time, yes, but the worker’s family ALSO should get a dividend as a return on their long-term investment in the economy.

I didn’t come up with this idea all on my own. Marilyn Waring first noticed the skewed accounting of nations as a minister of Parliament in New Zealand and wrote about time and money in If Women Counted.

An economics professor at Florida A&M University, Shirley Burggraf, proposed a social security dividend for parents. You can still get her book.

Other countries have a much more public discussion about public/private home issues. The Brits have openly exposed this false division between “spheres,? though I haven’t seen them connect it to 19th century dualism.  James Robertson says we need a “SHE” economy (A Sane & Healthy Economy) and All Work and No Pay; Women, Housework, and the Wages Due, edited by Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming, makes a similar case. Check out Nora Castaneda and the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela, too.

Who would pay for this Family Investment dividend? All of us Americans should. We all benefit from every healthy worker’s contributions of time and attention to the economy. Family time invested in future workers could be figured as a percentage of the GDP. Likewise, that time’s returned dividend could be calculated as a 20-year bond investment in the future GDP. It goes like this: Whenever a family member raises kids to adulthood, they loan the country their time, money and hope in the future economy.

Whenever they loan time and comfort to retired or ill workers past their prime and on their way out, they’re also investing in the economy. In a capitalist country, hospitals and funerals contribute significant economic activity—and none of it would be possible without old, sick and dying workers.

Now, if your kid winds up in a crack house, naturally, the cost of curing him or sending him to prison would have to offset your parental dividend, but as soon as he was up and working on the job again, your dividend could come back, along with his wages. Your dividend could also be used to set aside against your future aging and eventual demise. Traditionally this has always been the arrangement between generations: you invest in me, your kid, and I’ll take care of you when you’re old. This was an economic activity long before there were dollars..

If your kid arrives on the job market with an MBA or a law degree, so much the better.  A bigger dividend should reflect your larger investment in the American economy’s future well-being. Women and/or men who decide to invest time in families and America’s little future workers might also get tax breaks, same as they do now—only more on the level that companies do who come into town and provide a community with jobs. Yes, that kind of tax-break: property tax relief, assistance with operative set-up, abeyance of municipal charges.

What are jobs anyway? Only places where a worker’s time is invested in making products—consumed and used by whom? More of us workers! The economy is one huge sphere of workers and worker production, not two separate walled-off ones—not two at all!

If our government “of the people” had a mind to do it, Americans collectively might even match the expected parental time and financial investment, while the kid is growing up. We do this to some extent now with property tax investments in our public schools. The U.S. is the only major industrialized country not to provide some public funds for maternity leave. Other countries even invest in public health care, public childcare or flexible hours for working parents.

Misnamed, “socialism,” these capitalist investment policies recognize the financial importance of healthy youngsters, who grow up into healthy workers and managers and entrepreneurs tomorrow. Taxes on corporations and the owners of production could help pay for our collective investments in family, since they’re the ones who will benefit most financially from utilizing tomorrow’s responsible and healthy employees.

But if this doesn’t appeal to you, then consider the Tobin Tax, an idea put forward by Nobel-prize winning Yale economist, James Tobin, in the 1970s. His idea was buried and discredited by “free-market” bullies. But as nation after nation went bust, the dangers of currency game-playing kept resurfacing. If global speculators, gaming national currency systems and markets like a  casino, endangered national livelihoods—why not discourage recklessness by taxing international transactions? Paul Krugman just reiterated the idea again in The New York Times (Nov. 27, 09).

According to South African economist, Margaret Legum, in her book, It Doesn’t have to be Like This, the Tobin tax would be impossible to evade and at a modest 0.25% would generate $250 billion on the now current $2 trillion in transactions. That’s $250 billion every year. That might fund our investing in our families—at least so long as we don’t allow yet another open-ended war to be declared. (War, it turns out, is profitable for everyone but the people involved.)

Yes, okay, the result of all this parental and shared community investment in our families would mean literally selling our kids’ into eventual wage-slavery. But we capitalists live with that reality already. Parents just don’t get a return on their investment. The Tobin tax could mean more public investment in this parental dividend; it could mean working class kids could get an education without putting their life on the line. Wars could not be waged without boys and girls desperate for money and meaning for their lives. Monetized caring could gain enough respect that more could decide to afford it more often.

Only because we’ve mentally kept the family sphere separate from the commercial sphere, do parents, especially moms,  get little but blame and expenses for their parental time, or for caring for their own parents when they’re past their prime. So tear down the last fragments of that old 19th century wall dividing private and public spheres! Freedom! More capitalism for all!

Not separate at all, two spheres separated by a man-made wall has always been a convenient lie. For the families who continue to make this economy work, it’s been an expensive lie. We live as wage-slaves on the job and come home to a second shift of unpaid slavery. And for what? Capitalism! Our families need more of it!

Did this subject make the headlines in YOUR favorite paper?  Were people talking about this at the water cooler where you work? I wish they were!

In late September, the G20 got together in Pittsburgh—pretty dull so far, huh?  In itself this expanded economic gathering marks a shift in power to China and India and the Southern hemisphere’s “developing” nations. But on the way there, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is considered a conservative among the foundational G8, made a “passionate plea” for a broader vision of the economy.

Sarkozy has created a special commission to revamp France’s national statistics-gathering. A new study by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen has argued that calculating the Gross Domestic Product as a measure of the economy gives nations a skewed policy picture. I was jumping up and down, I was so happy hearing this!

Why? Because I love freedom-fries?  Freedom-Fries--Other-Stupidity-Well-Have-ToBecause French workers get 36 vacation days and a 35-hour work week, not to mention national healthcare?  Yes, yes, all that—but no, I was most excited because this is something Marilyn Waring, a young New Zealand Minister of Parliament, said 30 years ago!

She published a great book titled If Women Counted. Waring toured the world, talking about the way the GDP and its statistics left earth’s and women’s foundational contributions economically invisible. As a result, she said, our mother earth and family/social life didn’t “count” in our economic measures, and she showed the damaging results in the environment, food systems and our quality of life.

We are still living with those GDP results now.  This story from Joe Wisenthal, a business writer here in the U.S., calls the GDP a “crappy” measurement. See the details of why The Business Insider published this here.

As an American, you might also be interested in this story on Sarkozy, the GDP, and Canada’s positioning compared to the U.S.  in The Star in Toronto. By Martin Regg Cohn, it’s titled “How to measure Gross National Happiness,” something Bhutan is already doing.

As I’ve often argued on this blog, biology gets left out of the “economy” all together with GDP measurements. All the garbage gets externalized to Gaia. Passionate parents and lovers of all kinds get lumped together and misnamed the “informal economy.” The informal economy only cares and sacrifices and enjoys and supplies the gifts of life and makes an economy socially possible. Our juiciest, most valuable times, the reasons we work at all, should be renamed the “essential economy,” the “foundational economy.”  I call it our Eros economy because, without our deepest passions valued,  we’re dead without knowing it.

Eros’ love economy can be made visible. Some countries, like Canada and Britain, are already shaping policy around more holistic time and movement accounts. Without these measurements, our lives and the earth’s will remain the unnamed starving elephant in the room. A few will make out like bandits and leave the rest of us footing the bill. The GDP enables this description of the economy as warfare, something Waring also pointed out.

The GDP was originally designed by John Maynard Keynes, to help England rationalize and finance World War II. Later adopted by the U.N., the GDP’s measurement system has reliably helped world leaders view and sell war as something good for the economy.

Duh. No wonder. It conveniently leaves uncounted any debits that come from war, including environmental destruction, or damage to women and children and families and social functioning. And here’s the bonus. According to the GDP, the more expensive the war machinery, the more profit we get to add to our Gross Domestic Product! So corporations can count on fat national contracts—and citizens get to pay for it. Click here to see how much we’ve spent already on the two most recent wars.

.The GDP is not only skewed and crappy, it is destructive.

Thanks to my daughter, Kris, for this Mother’s Day article for investors in The Wall Street Journal. In it, columnist Jason Zweig advises men to share the reins to their investment portfolios with their wives. He opens with:

“Fess up, fellows: The masters of the universe have turned out to be masters of disaster. No matter which aspect of the financial crisis you consider, there is a man behind it.”

His article shows women investors tend to take fewer risks, trade less often and stick with their investments, leveraging less. He quotes psychologists who claim men are more likely to react to crises like our current one with anger, while women react with fear. That’s one way to put it, I guess.

I think it more likely women understand their investments are only part of the universe. They’re well aware of how little trust should be put in arrogant men more interested in using money for self-aggrandizing sport, than in an honest return for smart investments in a future worth living. Acting with caution should only be called sensible—exactly Zweig’s point.

Warren Buffett, our country’s most famous investor, buffetts-warcalled last fall’s bank meltdown “an economic Pearl Harbor.” CNBC’s Becky Quick reminded him of this and asked him where we were, May 1st. Buffett looks like the Good-Humor Man with bodyguards, here, rattling his sword for stockholders, stating:

At that point, you could have lost the war. And there was a strike at the heart of the American system, the financial system…We got past that. Some of the right decisions were made then, so I give people great credit for doing that. The war isn’t over, though.”

Metaphors help explain what’s going on—but who exactly is the invader? Who is warring with whom? The last 30 years have seen a shameless increase in billionaires with hedge-funds, most of them “true-blue” American white males who employ CEOs. Meanwhile American wages and jobs have gone down or out of the country.

Game-players on Wall Street may love war. Winners get rich and become king of the mountain. But why should anyone fight for any king’s mountains of paper and electronic blips? Americans gave up kings when the Constitution was signed. I thought “the heart of the American system” was democracy, not “the financial system” Buffett here cites.

I am underpaid and overworked, aware of the growth in poverty around the world and among kids here at home. My adult children need 80 hours of labor to support their households, not the 40 hours my parents’ needed. Give me growing, living metaphors for any system you expect me to swallow.

Warren, make love, not war! Grow us money on trees! Dig out the cut-worms of debt. Weed out Wall Street’s witch-grass, choking out the flowering of our buzzing, living lives. I won’t rally round the flag for bogus war-mongering. I prefer what Pogo would have said about the economy last September and now:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

by Jim Pavlidis

Image by Jim Pavlidis

I just lost my mother, and so have been thinking about our American way of death. You may know of a book by that title, written by muckraker Jessica Mitford in 1963, and revisited in a recent updated version. Mitford once joked about her journalistic style, “Objectivity? I always have an objective in mind.” Mitford exposed the high cost of death and the funeral business (and in other books, shamed other American businesses, like prisons).

Her angle on the “biz” still fits our zeitgeist. We Americans pay little public attention to mourning and grief. It’s practically un-American not to have a nice day. I googled “death statistics,” hoping to find some indicators of the economic cost to business or government for providing leaves for a death in the family. In the U.S., is this typically paid or unpaid leave? What are the economic costs for depression associated with mourning? How many Americans have trouble taking time off from work for funerals or finding needed time for settling estates? Could we cut costs by more actively engaging in this common and necessary human process?

I couldn’t find much about the topic. Imagine the size of our silence about this. Nearly two-and-a half million people die each year, (2,425,900 in 2006, says the National Center for Health Statistics).

The NCHS press release is happy about our life expectancy rates, up from last year, now age 78, but I’m saying, what about the family impact of those 2.5 million deaths? How do we the living deal with it? Who is measuring our “private” costs? Many of those 2.5 million are not only grieved and mourned, but estates must be settled by family members or appointed others, and their deaths cost Americans a good lot of money, particularly when travel costs for today’s far-flung families get included. What is the emotional cost when that time or travel isn’t affordable?

I found the U.K. and Canada talked more openly about death, calling it “bereavement,” and apparently they’re more generous in accounting for real costs. The Department of Work and Pensions benefits pays 2000 British Pounds immediately, or $2960 in today’s currency market, to help pay for immediate bereavement expenses. Social Security pays out $500 and calls it a “death benefit.”