The term ‘crisis” has often been used to describe the economic recession of the past couple years. A New York Times headline, for example, read ‘Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment” on the morning of the January 2009 presidential inauguration. The United States faces ‘an unprecedented crisis, the worst in our history,” Minnesota senator Al Franken declared last year. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, went so far as to announce, ‘We are on the verge of complete collapse.”

However, the recent earthquake in Haiti is a sharp reminder of what a real crisis is. It also alerts us to how words such as ‘crisis” are often misused and demonstrates the need for most Americans to put things in perspective.

We must ask ourselves: Is the current economic ‘crisis” as dire as the Civil War or the Great Depression? Is it as horrible as the September 11th tragedy or the 1960s civil rights riots? Does it entail an apocalypse that will destroy all of Earth?

It seems that nowadays the word crisis is often used by our politicians in Washington to gain press coverage and to increase their importance. Lobbyists, think&-tank fellows, news-channel figures, government officials and pundits all become more significant when there is a sense of national crisis. Former President George W. Bush declared a crisis of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and asked Congress for extraordinary powers to invade a nation that did not appear to pose any threat to the United States.

When financial markets froze in the autumn of 2008, a crisis was declared. This was used to justify $700 billion of bailout money that was spent without enough congressional oversight and accountability. Though some companies were legitimately helped, this also resulted in some of the CEOs rewarding themselves bonuses from taxpayer money. (Martin Sullivan, former CEO of AIG, received approximately $20 million after abdicating his position in June 2008.)

It is true that the economic recession of recent years has caused the unemployment rate to increase. We should not dismiss the troubles of people who are affected by this, but at the same time, we should also take the time to appreciate the luxuries often taken for granted before freely throwing around the word ‘crisis.”

Every time we surf the Internet, listen to our favorite music on our iPods, contact people via our handy cell phones or instantly feel warmth when we enter a building during a harsh winter, we are enjoying the benefits of marvelous technology a testament to invaluable human ingenuity and progress. Does the current crisis endanger such amenities? Must we be reminded that across the Atlantic in Africa, a substantial portion of people live in poverty, lacking access to adequate supplies of clean water and food? As the adage says, ‘You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”

In the end, the recession of the past three years is largely caused by human error and flaws within the financial and economic system. Such flaws are fixable. Declaring ‘crisis” all the time regarding such conditions in the United States when they are nothing compared to the dire circumstances in Africa distracts us from addressing true crises.

Khan is a member of
the class of 2012.

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