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EDITORIALS

A trillion is not enough
Twenty wise men need to think more
THE G-20 summit has ended on a generally positive note with the resolve to pump in a whopping $1.1 trillion into the world economy through multilateral institutions like the IMF to help revive markets reeling under recession. The chosen wise men meeting in London have also promised action against tax havens which are a source of denial of huge resources to governments.

Un-clean chit
CBI on exoneration mission
T
HE Congress had already given a clean chit to
Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar when it gave them
party tickets to contest from North-East Delhi and
South Delhi, respectively. Now the CBI has also signed
on the dotted lines, by “recommending no action”
against Tytler in the 1984 riot case relating to an
arson attempt at a Delhi gurdwara. The party doing
such a cover-up job is bad enough.


EARLIER STORIES




Up again

Sensex is sentiment driven
T
HE Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index (Sensex) has closed in the green for the fourth consecutive week. This does not mean dark clouds have disappeared. The world economic crisis, widely dubbed the worst since the 1930s, is far from over. Only some positive developments and economic data have given rise to optimism in some quarters that the worst may be behind us.

ARTICLE

The menace called ragging
It can’t be allowed to go on

by Amrik Singh
R
AGGING is a nuisance. It entered India about a century ago. Since the number
of students was small most of the time, it continued to be only a nuisance. Of
late, however, it has gone beyond that stage and now threatens to become a
real social menace.

MIDDLE

Car with wings
by Uttam Sengupta
T
echnology has a way of taking us by surprise. And although aviation enthusiasts have dreamt of a “roadable aircraft” for close to a century, when the breakthrough finally came this week, it went largely unnoticed in this country. There are skeptics, and they always undoubtedly outnumber the faithful, who still doubt if the fantasy will ever turn into reality.

OPED

India Votes
Paying for votes
Corruption hampers good governance

by N. Bhaskara Rao
F
OUR issues relating to our electoral practices need to be addressed urgently.
The national election time is the right time to ponder over these. These are
campaign expenditure, the extent money is paid to influence voters, the way
the news media covers the polls and representative character of our elected
MPs, MLAs and governments.

Divided NATO at crossroads
by Henry Chu
A
FTER 60 years of a solid but sometimes stormy marriage, the countries of the world’s most powerful military alliance plan to renew their vows of mutual support and protection this weekend. But don’t expect a second honeymoon.

Living with a wealth of poverty
by Susan Reimer
M
Y friend Betsy says it’s official: It is now hip to be broke, and I think she is right. It is cool to talk about what a bath your 401(k) has taken and how your job is hanging by a thread.

 


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A trillion is not enough
Twenty wise men need to think more

THE G-20 summit has ended on a generally positive note with the resolve to pump in a whopping $1.1 trillion into the world economy through multilateral institutions like the IMF to help revive markets reeling under recession. The chosen wise men meeting in London have also promised action against tax havens which are a source of denial of huge resources to governments.

Justifiably, the beneficiaries would be the middle and low-income countries. Which have been caught in the quagmire created by industrialized countries like the US through over-spending. While the ‘booster dose’ of US$1.1 trillion will hopefully ease the pressure of recession and create more jobs in job-starved markets, the proposed action against tax havens which are notorious for stacking up unaccounted money would perhaps drive some ‘tainted’ money back into circulation. Hopefully.

Clearly, the direction of the reforms is positive, but there can be little doubt that the summit declaration has fallen woefully short of expectations in certain key areas. There is no evidence to support British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s exagerrated claim that April 3 was “the day the world came together.”

The US and UK calls for a joint stimulus package were firmly rebutted by Germany and France, leaving leaders merely to reiterate a commitment to do “whatever it takes.” The vital issues of reforming the working of free market economy and bringing about greater financial regulation were swept under the carpet as was the need for ‘green reforms’ aimed at greater environmental protection.

India can draw satisfaction from the fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s voice was treated with respect as at the last summit. It was his impassioned plea for an end to banking secrecy and action against tax havens that was the inspiration for its inclusion in the declaration. His suggestion that IMF consider the sale of gold reserves to help the poor countries was also accepted in principle.

Besides, India was included as a member on the Financial Stability Board. But one important Indian recommendation seeking an end to protectionist measures by the West, which are an impediment to trade, virtually fell on deaf ears. All in all, the G-20 summit was a mixed bag, significant and encouraging but not path-breaking.

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Un-clean chit
CBI on exoneration mission

THE Congress had already given a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar when it gave them party tickets to contest from North-East Delhi and South Delhi, respectively. Now the CBI has also signed on the dotted lines, by “recommending no action” against Tytler in the 1984 riot case relating to an arson attempt at a Delhi gurdwara. The party doing such a cover-up job is bad enough.

The CBI is apparently serving the ruling party by letting off Tytler and Sajjan Kumar who were among the political leaders severely indicted in 2005 by the Justice G T Nanavati Commission. But then, the CBI has always shown itself to be eager to let them off throwing its sense of duty and objectivity to the winds.

The Nanavati indictment had not led to a trial against Tytler, only because the CBI had claimed in the court that there was no evidence to corroborate the “allegations” against him. It filed the first closure report in the case in 2007 claiming that one of the crucial witnesses, Jasbir Singh, was untraceable.

The court rejected its suggestion and directed the CBI to conduct further investigation as Jasbir Singh was traced in the US and was willing to testify. Strangely, it has now filed this second closure report, claiming that Jasbir Singh and Surinder Singh had proved to be too unreliable as witnesses. Who knows the trial court might again reject the closure report on April 9, the next date of hearing.

It is a matter of national shame that the 2,733 Sikhs officially admitted to have been killed in Delhi alone – and many more whom the official agencies tended to ignore – have not been able to get justice even a quarter century after the massacre. Only 13 persons in six murder cases have been punished.

Nobody has tried to ferret out the truth as to who organised the mobs and
attacked the community. There is equally formidable evidence against Sajjan
Kumar too. Will he too get the benefit of the CBI’s munificence? There will be
very few impartial observers who would be willing to give a clean chit to the
premier investigating agency.


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Up again
Sensex is sentiment driven

THE Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index (Sensex) has closed in the green for the fourth consecutive week. This does not mean dark clouds have disappeared. The world economic crisis, widely dubbed the worst since the 1930s, is far from over. Only some positive developments and economic data have given rise to optimism in some quarters that the worst may be behind us.

How reliable or misplaced that optimism is remains to be seen. The Sensex is only following other Asian, US and European indices. The trigger for the global stock rally came from the massive US bank bailout and stimulus packages followed by better-than-expected data of consumer consumption, automobile sales and housing demand in India.

However, stock markets are often in troubled times driven more by sentiment than any economic logic. Analysts see these upswings as bear market rallies driven partly by genuine investments at low levels as some stocks had become quite attractive. A lot of fund managers are sitting over huge piles of cash, part of which has moved from gold to other commodities like metals and stocks. Oil too has started rising and is staying above $50 a barrel.

The sentiment had improved as the G-20 Summit was widely expected to tackle the crisis. The Summit outcome has cheered stock markets though economic woes are too deep and widespread to be contained by a $1.1 trillion booster agreed upon at the G-20 summit.

Displaying irrational exuberance, stock operators, during a rally, cling to positive news. There are expectations of another round of interest rate cut. Firms have already been exempted from reporting mark-to-market forex losses. Negative news has been ignored. A major dip in exports has been brushed aside.

The monsoon effect on the economic fortunes of rural India cannot be undermined. There is a general election ahead and uncertainty looms about who will form the government at the Centre. Small investors, who cannot take risks, should exercise caution as the market is still volatile and can be irrational in behaviour.

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Thought for the Day

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be undestood. — Marie Curie

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The menace called ragging
It can’t be allowed to go on

by Amrik Singh

RAGGING is a nuisance. It entered India about a century ago. Since the number
of students was small most of the time, it continued to be only a nuisance. Of
late, however, it has gone beyond that stage and now threatens to become a
real social menace.

There have been a number of serious incidents which have resulted in real physical harm, even death in a few cases. The current incident in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, is one example of this. One cannot take it lightly. Death in these circumstances was totally avoidable. It is mismanagement and a complete breakdown of law and order that such an outrageous thing could occur.

The courts have considered this matter on more than one occasion. In 2007, the Supreme Court virtually endorsed the report of a committee appointed by it a little earlier. This report had been submitted by Mr R.K. Raghvan, who had just retired from the headship of the CBI. It made news and was reported widely.

It had made about 50 recommendations and, broadly speaking, these were found acceptable. There is little more to do than to reendorse them even today. The Raghvan Committee had recommended a whole range of them and the Supreme Court had endorsed them without going into many more details.

If no follow-up action has been taken so far about them, it was not for lack of the right recommendations. On the contrary, it is the usual story of being “soft” rather than “tough”. Even today, it is the UGC which is reported to be drawing up a new set of directives. But the fact of the matter is that, more than the UGC, it is the AICTE and the Medical Council of India which should be more directly concerned with the issue.

They appear to be hesistant about doing what is required to be done. The fact is that these bodies should be more assertive and active than they have given evidence of so far. It is not that the UGC has nothing to do with it. It looks after more than a million students. That is why professional bodies other than the UGC are equally concerned.

When the matter is more closely analysed the issue is to be encountered more often in respect of engineering and medical courses than the general run of institution. This is not the occasion to go into the how and why of it, but this much is apparent and needs to be further investigated and analysed.

The minimum that these different professional bodies can do is that they put
their heads together and make the recommendations of the Raghvan Committee
available to the general public. Since the Supreme Court broadly endorsed these
recommendations, its judgement also can be better publicised than has been
done so far.

One of the principal recommendations of the Raghvan Committee was that in order to forestall and prevent the outbreak of ragging, the focus of responsibility should be on all levels of authorities. That is to say that the main responsibility be put on the head of the institution.

At the same time, members of the training faculty as also the non-teaching employees have a role to play. According to what is published in the newspapers, this dimension of the problem is more or less missing in what is under discussion. To put it no more strongly, this is an indirect form of defiance of what the highest court of justice has said.

More often than not, this kind of personal responsibility has seldom been put on the head of the institution. In some universities a system has got developed over the years in which the college is fined for not doing what he or she is required to do. If a college is found negligent in doing what is required to be done, non-compliance is punished with a fine of Rs 1 lakh or Rs 2 lakh.

No institution can escape the embarrassment of being held responsible for this kind of negligence of duty. Therefore, one thing that needs to be stressed is that the responsibility of the head of the institution is specifically defined in such a way that no one can get away from it in any way.

The Raghvan Committee put it pointedly when it said that anything which violates the dignity of a student is objectionable. Something like a fine between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh would put the fear of God into the thinking of whoever is incharge of an institution. This does not preclude the head of the institution being censored otherwise or removed from that position.

In a college, the Principal can be held responsible, but today in our universities the direct recruitment of students is quite high. Generally speaking, the dean of the faculty is the person incharge, but there are variations on this pattern. Sometimes there are deans of students also.

Whatever be the variations, these can be visualised in advance and worked out in such a manner that whoever is made incharge, the responsibility for doing certain things cannot be dodged.

The issue is not of one or two individuals but how a system is established. For instance, the Raghvan Committee had laid down that each student be required to fill a personal bond of responsibility. It is not possible to go into the details of the recommendations made by the committee.

Once this document is more widely circulated and discussed and appropriate responsibilities fixed, there would be no room for evasion. The fact is that what was imported into India a century or so ago has become a nuisance, more particularly in respect of certain categories of students and certain places where evasion is the order of the day and no one is held responsible for it.

Apart from capital offence, there are other variations of the issue, even at the school level. There are instances of teachers hitting small children so badly that in certain cases hearing is affected or eyesight damaged.

With the growth of numbers, there has not been an equal growth in understanding. While the first thing to do is to fix responsibility for what is being done, or more precisely, not done, it is equally important to educate the teachers properly.

The various professional all-India bodies are directly concerned with the issue and they have to go into details, to put it no more strongly. We have had enough of this nuisance. We do not want it to become a menace.

Having said all this, it is important to bring out one thing. When more and more students join the educational system how the teachers understand their job cannot be underrated or overlooked.

The teachers hardly matter today. There are many reasons for this state of affairs. One cannot discuss this issue here even briefly, but it is important to ensure that we should recognise that teachers have to be involved in the formulation of education policy. This is not only important, it is imperative — if one may so.

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Car with wings
by Uttam Sengupta

Technology has a way of taking us by surprise. And although aviation enthusiasts have dreamt of a “roadable aircraft” for close to a century, when the breakthrough finally came this week, it went largely unnoticed in this country. There are skeptics, and they always undoubtedly outnumber the faithful, who still doubt if the fantasy will ever turn into reality.

But students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States took a giant leap this week by successfully testing a prototype that switched from an automobile to an aircraft and which then landed back on terra firma to be driven again on the tarmac, called the road.

True, it flew for only 37 seconds but overcoming the technological barrier of shifting from one mode to another is a development that holds the promise of revolutionising personal mobility, in an age when many an invention has already reduced, if not abolished, distance.

The pioneering group from the MIT has reportedly formed a company to manufacture the “roadable aircraft” as early as next year. The group has also claimed to have received 40 advance orders for the two-seater. The advantages of driving out of the garage at the backyard and then take to the sky are obvious and are the stuff that science fiction is made of.

In inclement weather, it can be driven on the road; and it can take wings when the weather improves. The prototype promises to fly close to a range of 600 kilometres with 20 gallons. And the pilot, it appears, will be able to switch from one mode to another in 30 seconds, the time it takes to read the clock, or to switch the ignition key, or less time to switch from the NDTV to BBC.

It is said that optimists invented the aircraft and pessimists the parachute. By that token, the “roadable aircraft” appears to have been developed by realists who sense an opportunity. With ever-increasing number of cars and traffic snarls holding up movement on the roads and inclement weather often leading to cancellation of flights, not to speak of growing parking problems in the cities, the flying car does seem to hold the perfect solution for the time being.

We don’t know how those who in any case “fly” in their cars even now — unmindful of the traffic lights or the cops, or the fly-by-night operators — will greet the news from Massachusetts. We also don’t know whether we will have to apply to the Road Transport Authority or the DGCA for a licence. But it is certain that there will be inter-ministry fight on the dual use of technology.

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India Votes
Paying for votes
Corruption hampers good governance
by N. Bhaskara Rao

FOUR issues relating to our electoral practices need to be addressed urgently.
The national election time is the right time to ponder over these. These are
campaign expenditure, the extent money is paid to influence voters, the way
the news media covers the polls and representative character of our elected
MPs, MLAs and governments.

A new wave of democracy in the country can be ushered in only by addressing these issues. They have implications to the kind of democracy we have.

Despite some initiatives of the Election Commission, poll-eve campaign expenditure is skyrocketing election after election. Unless we understand the linkage of this phenomenon with the larger malice that this expenditure implies to good governance and the very democratic system, we will be talking more about symptoms.

Consider, for example, the CMS’s latest in the series of studies on corruption involved in citizens availing basic government services and the extent political parties pay cash to voters.

The countrywide studies in 2007 and 2008 bring out that the phenomenon of “paying for votes” is not limited to a few or here and there, but includes the young and the old the educated and the illiterate, and rural and urban.

In some states, more than one-third of voters have been paid for their votes on poll-eve in the last 10 years. These figures have been validated with sub-sample surveys since.

What does this mean? I call this the “mother of all corruption” as this practice sets or perpetuates corruption in governance. This trend is expected to increase further in 2009 as it has become a “necessary condition” to give a fight in the election.

That being the case, can we strengthen our democracy without addressing this phenomenon? Means no longer matter in our electoral process, winning at any cost does. That cannot be the core of competitive politics.

The citizen is not realising that by “accepting” money for vote once in five years or so, he/she is falling into a vicious trap of having to pay as bribe several times more and every year for availing basic public services that they are entitled to otherwise. Hence the urgency to understand the seriousness of the phenomenon of paying for votes.

The voter turnout has not been increasing despite more educated voters, the mounting campaign expenditure and proliferation of news channels and their coverage of the electoral process. The Election Commission spends about Rs 100 crore to educate voters and another Rs 1,000 crore on conducting the polls.

Parties and candidates spend ten times that, about Rs 10,000 crore, for one round of the Lok Sabha polls. Most of this money spent by candidates and even parties is not officially declared.

Going by what is allowed today as election expenditure by candidates, the total expenditure should not be more than Rs 3,500 crore (even assuming 4-5 candidates seriously contest on an average per constituency).

We have lessons from the US experience of how huge amounts are raised for poll campaigns — most of it for “TV advertising”. For, with increased reliance on news media as a major source of poll campaign, the expenditure is bound to increase significantly.

A prominent political analyst who worked with Gallop Agency in the US for long has concluded in his book recently that “democracy is endangered by the way the news media uses public opinion polls” on the eve of elections.

All this, however, should not mean that TV is bad or it should not cover the electoral process. All that I am saying is that implications are not positive. Perhaps because the “kind of coverage” that channels are doing requires a relook — in terms of their format, structure, participation and the extent of repeat and “more of the same” kind of coverage TV channels are engaged in.

Certain “righteousness” that is indicated by these programmes — despite TV punditary going wrong more often, is what could be said as short-circuiting the very electoral process.

This linkage needs to be understood better and corrected wherever required and in whatever manner. The best bet for democracy is concerned and competent citizens, not “competitive politics” or more of the same punditary of news media.

We have today in India more “24-hour news channels” than in any other country and their number is likely to mount further in 2009. As the one who pioneered pre-poll surveys and exit polls for the news media three decades ago, I am not questioning the media’s freedom.

But one needs to question the methodology and transparency aspects of such studies and the way they are covered and presented by channels to a large section of voters as if that is the way “it is” and as if preempting the very value of vote.

Such coverage instead should motivate voting, help voters discriminate candidates on their virtues. And, more importantly, the coverage should reflect needs and aspirations of communities rather than greed and glamour of political “dadas”. The punditary aspects in the coverage of a campaign should give way to participatory opportunity of citizens.

The representative character of Lok Sabha members and that of the parties in power in the states has not been increasing. In fact, it is on the decline. Not even half of the Lok Sabha members today win with 50 per cent of the polled votes, which means representing hardly 30 per cent of the electorate of the constituency, or even less, depending on the turnout.

The onus to debate these issues rests on parties and voter associations and civil society groups. And, of course, on the news media of the country.

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Divided NATO at crossroads
by Henry Chu

AFTER 60 years of a solid but sometimes stormy marriage, the countries of the world’s most powerful military alliance plan to renew their vows of mutual support and protection this weekend. But don’t expect a second honeymoon.

As it prepares to enter its seventh decade, NATO is riven by profound disagreements over its role in a world that combines new threats with the specter of an old one.

Many critics see an alliance adrift, one that is fighting an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan while neglecting challenges closer to home, such as a newly resurgent Russia. But even as some of the 26 members — rising to 28 as of this week — advocate going “back to basics,” others insist that to remain relevant in the 21st century, NATO must branch out to combat new threats to transatlantic security, including climate change and the vulnerability of cyberspace.

“We’re a bunch of stray cats going forward, and no one has brought us together,” said Ronald D. Asmus, who works in the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Basically we don’t have a consensus in NATO today on what the priorities should be.”

At this weekend’s 60th anniversary summit, which President Barack Obama is to attend as part of his first official voyage to Europe, NATO members are expected to reaffirm their vow of mutual defense, the bedrock of the alliance’s existence. The defining principle of “one for all and all for one” was laid out in Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty in 1949, soon after the onset of the Cold War.

But what that pledge means in a changing world has become a source of intense debate among old friends, and among traditional and more recent allies — a debate made hotter by a rising, muscle-flexing Russia.

Russia’s invasion last year of Georgia, an aspiring NATO member, was a game-changer, particularly for the former satellite states of the Soviet Union that have joined the alliance.

Until then, Eastern European and Baltic states had gone along with NATO’s shift in the past 20 years to missions outside its sphere of operation, including the Afghan war and the patrolling of shipping lanes in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Out of area or out of business” was NATO’s new mantra, reflecting post-Cold War geopolitical realities. But Russia’s push into Georgia caused its neighbors to look nervously over their shoulders again.

“What Georgia did was destroy the perception that the European continent was safe once and for all, and that war had become unthinkable,” Asmus said.

“You have those saying, `Hey, it’s not Afghanistan, but what about us, what about our security on the continent?’

Former East Bloc countries such as Poland and ex-Soviet republics such as the Baltic state Lithuania are lobbying for a vigorous commitment to mutual defense in the traditional sense of territorial protection, a throwback to the days when Article 5 was a clear call to keep Soviet boots off Western European soil.

These nations want that reaffirmation to be incorporated into a declaration of security that will be issued at the summit. They also want the alliance’s military command to devise stronger contingency plans for their defense.

But that position puts them at odds with allies such as Germany and Italy, which are eager to maintain friendly relations with Russia and fear that any emphasis on Article 5 would antagonize the Kremlin and escalate tensions.

Influential voices, many of them in the U.S., also argue that the alliance cannot just go back to basics if it hopes to remain relevant.

Instead, it must redefine security to take into account new threats unknown only a decade ago: terrorist strikes on a large scale, perhaps with nuclear or biological weapons; hackers who try to disrupt vital computer networks; attacks on oil and gas pipelines; the melting of the polar icecaps and a potential scramble for natural resources there.

In the eyes of Washington and London, the battle in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Islamic extremism, albeit far away, is crucial to the security of NATO countries at home. The alliance never invoked Article 5 during the Cold War but did so for the first time after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The main threat to European and American citizens emanates from turmoil and terrorism in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan,” said a report on NATO released in February by a group of American think tanks. “Afghanistan has become a crucible for the alliance. NATO’s credibility is on the line.”

Yet the war is a source of considerable friction even among several of NATO’s longtime partners. Obama has promised a “surge” in U.S. troops in Afghanistan but has had trouble persuading countries such as Germany to boost troop levels and allow those soldiers to engage in combat.

Expanding NATO’s mandate beyond traditional military endeavors, to include matters such as cyber security and energy security, is just as contentious.

As the main provider of military might, the U.S. is still NATO’s biggest player. But it is unclear where Obama sees the alliance heading, and this weekend’s summit probably comes too early in his presidency for his foreign policy and security teams to have a NATO game plan fully mapped out.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Living with a wealth of poverty
by Susan Reimer

MY friend Betsy says it’s official: It is now hip to be broke, and I think she is right. It is cool to talk about what a bath your 401(k) has taken and how your job is hanging by a thread.

The topics that our parents would never discuss — how much money we make and how much we spend — are now standard cocktail party chatter.

I never thought there would be a subject that would push our children out of the center of all conversation, but I was wrong. This recession — they are calling it the “Great Recession” now — has done it. We used to complain that we couldn’t get our kids on the phone. Now we complain that we can’t get our broker on the phone.

We aren’t eating out and we aren’t buying clothes. We are canceling neighborhood pool memberships and summer vacation plans. We can’t afford to replace our computers or our cars. And we don’t mind who knows. It’s all we can talk about.

Conspicuous consumption is now conspicuous by its absence. If you are buying anything right now, you are keeping that news to yourself. What would the neighbors think?

It is cool to conserve. Buy stock in Tupperware, because everyone is bringing leftovers to work for lunch. Open a repair shop, because nobody is buying new. Shop your closet, and when someone compliments your outfit, you can say, “This old thing?” and mean it.

After 9/11, former President George W. Bush urged the country to spend, spend, spend so the terrorists wouldn’t have the satisfaction of thinking they had blown up the American economy along with the buildings that symbolized the American economy.

We put our hands over our hearts — with our credit cards in our palms — and headed to the mall.

Not this time. We consumers are supposed to drive the economic recovery, but we haven’t got the guts to press the accelerator.

If you haven’t lost your job, your co-worker or your neighbor or your brother-in-law has. And if your job is safe, your earnings aren’t. Furloughs, we are told, are what you do for the greater good.

Salary rollbacks are what you do for the friend in the cubicle next to you. Even if you are doing OK, somebody else isn’t, and it is part of the new economic moral imperative for you to share the suffering.

If you are spending in this kind of atmosphere, you are rich. If you are rich and you are not spending, you are just trying to fit in with everybody else. If you are broke and spending, you are doing your bit to jump-start the economy.

If you are broke and you aren’t spending, you are feeling prudent and virtuous and like you don’t need material goods to make you happy. But the fact is, none of us has the guts to let go of a single dollar.

And if you have no idea why this all happened, if you don’t know where the bottom is or what it will look like, you have plenty of company, and you are comforted by the fact that at least you are not the stupid one.

It is hard to tell what things will be like if this recession ever lifts. Will we forget it happened? I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember all those recessions they keep talking about — the one in the 1970s, the one in the ‘80s, the one in the ‘90s.

I must have been busy working and spending money, because they slipped right by me. Will we return to the work-and-spend cycle that seems to be part of the American DNA?

Or will we emerge with the mind-set of those who lived through the Great Depression? The shadow of those years never lifted for that generation and the residual effect was a powerful need to accumulate and hoard. My mother-in-law died owning something like 80 tablecloths and I don’t know how many bedspreads.

Will our children grow up believing that 401(k)s were the great failed experiment and that their parents — whom they are now supporting — were suckers?

Will our children consider investment banks and stock funds to be scams for losers, as bogus as the e-mail you get from the guy in India asking you to put up $25,000 in good-faith money?

Will they accumulate and hoard to hold off the dread they feel for their own future? How many tablecloths and bedspreads will it take to calm their restless fear?

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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