Economic denial and Santa Claus

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In economic denial: This past Christmas, I watched some kids, circa 10 years old, face the test of the collapsing Santa myth. Many parents feel anxious over this. They fear it will blight their kids' mental health, or already has, but are unsure what to say. My own sense is that kids, if encouraged to deal with the issue themselves, handle it well. It becomes a kind of lab on how to deal with doubts and myths to come, without falling into cynicism or rage. They can calmly move on or, perhaps, retain Santa as a sort of metaphor. So it helps confirm their ability to manage life's inevitable review processes.

Contrast this with the elite and media responses to the collapse of the "unfettered free markets" myth. Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, 82, said he'd been wrong all his life about "self-corrections." No reflection, regret or insight, though. The National Post's "wisdom series" interviewed CEO-types on what went wrong and what to do now. That's like asking the defeated generals on a battlefield for advice. In fact, it's like the bodies of their troops (When will they ever learn?) asking them for advice.

Their answers ran from clichés ("I'm not a person with regrets") to stating the obvious, to common sense ("I'm in the real-estate business. I can't comment on whether you should bail company A, B, C or D out"), to what your Uncle Harry might say. The most irksome part was the pompous photos. They should have looked like survivors climbing out of the wreckage on Lost. They run businesses; public policy isn't their brief. And if it is, then the Post should also interview workers in their companies who'd have their own views on what's wrong and should be done.

Or the CBC's Dragons' Den from its business reality show, who got pitched on how to save the country this week. You go to those who didn't see it coming and put them in (virtual) charge. It's like making some hack who ran the Liberal Party into the ground in the last election into your on-air expert for the next one. Oh, wait, the CBC did that, too. The dragons passed judgment on "stimulus" ideas, saying "Screw that" and "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen." They loved the tax-cuts guy. ("I love that guy.") He said it was like shooting fish in a barrel. "Dragons, you can be green dragons," said the eco-pitchers. If you want to see the outcome, it's on the news tonight.

For 30 years, these people and their views ruled. Many are still preoccupied with saving the banks and getting more credit out - though too much debt and credit created all this. How about giving workers better wages and encouraging unionization in aid of that, so they don't have to go into huge debt to fulfill their duty as consumers? Oh, whoops, sorry, what do I know?

Nor am I confident that left or liberal Keynesians have the answers. They sound a lot like generals who want to fight the war before this, the one in the 1930s. But what if this is different, especially if we're operating without the Second World War as the ultimate stimulus tool in the recovery package?

Inauguration: Everyone who trekked to Washington this week said they went to be part of history. What does that make the rest of us - ahistorical chopped liver? Are we outside history? Is history what happens mainly at the pinnacle of power, in the mightiest nations? This notion of history is both imperial and derisive. It diminishes most individuals and societies. What of Jakarta, where Barack Obama lived from 6 to 10? What of his father's Kenyan village, which he dreamed about? Are they part of history only when they tune in to an event about someone in the U.S. connected to them? Somebody ought to do something about history. Is that what Barack Obama meant by "time to put aside childish things"? Is an ethnocentric, militaristic, overdramatized sense of what counts as history one of those things?

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