Buffers blatant, unintended | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Feb 10, 2018

Recently, I audited an economics and history class at Edmonds Community College: "Macroeconomics and American Foreign Policy."

The professors present the concepts of macroeconomics in the real-world context of the 20th century, and in the case of this session, the Soviet Union. I listened, with much more personal context than the twentysomethings in the room, to how the “buffer sectors” of Eastern European countries were exploited to increasing degrees as the USSR transitioned from Lenin to Stalin’s “extensive growth” strategy.

The quickest route to growth was to grow the quantity of resources (land, labor, capital), not the quality of the resources, so he took them (by force) from nearby countries. Stalin created a buffer for Russia’s economy with the resources from others, and that meant people and their homes and land and potential to earn.

Stalin knew that buffers are convenient to have when trying to craft the lives we want, and those buffers have ramifications for someone else, although not usually to the extent of genocide, famine, war.

We all create or pursue buffers. Most are innocuous, like the vacations we take to get away from work, from family stress, or from months of dreary rain.

What about the favorite chair or garden in our homes where we retreat? And even the people who love us and make us feel most comfortable being ourselves are a form of a buffer from the tougher days.

We create or remove buffers by the choices we make about how and where to spend our time. As a 22-year-old college graduate, I chose to wipe out a buffer by taking a semester off before graduate school and working as a cocktail waitress in a country-western bar just a couple of miles from my house in New Mexico.

I met people not typically in my orbit, especially for most of my years growing up on the East Coast, and learned of challenges I had never considered, many so different from those my Puerto Rican family experienced, but not less valid.

I often joke about my propensity to compartmentalize things that are painful – I put them in a box in my head (and my heart) and only intentionally bring it out when I am in a safe place to feel those feelings. Of course, sometimes, that does not work, and the buffer shows itself to be more of an illusion that I fooled myself it to be.

And just as with our psyches, there are artificial buffers around that hide reality or have negative consequences.

The buffer created by our pricey Edmonds housing market may create the illusion that homelessness or the struggle to attain the American Dream are not so prevalent. Our wonderful markets with organic peppers at $5.99 belie the truth that hunger affects one in eight of our neighbors (and one in five children).

The growth in need of our local food banks and food insecurity statistics among students at that same Edmonds Community College where I relearned about Stalin demonstrate that the issue is in our backyard.

Only decades after Stalin began annexing Eastern Europe did the impact of those economic policies on political and social policies come to light, as Moscow ran out of readily available resources from the people and countries nearby.

Most of us know how the story ends, when the USSR went bankrupt in 1991, but like anywhere, the damage done to the people and countries who were in those buffer sectors is still felt today.

There is much to be hopeful and grateful for. There are hard-working people building good lives for themselves and plenty who are committed to creating opportunities for others.

Just last fall, Mayor Earling appointed a task force on housing affordability and homelessness.

Many give of their time and money to help others might be offended by the suggestion that we intentionally create a buffer zone around ourselves, but buffers exist, whether blatant or unintended.

 

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