My initial reaction to the financial crisis is to blame those in charge of the companies we see on the news everyday. This includes CEO’s of multi-billion dollar banking firms who soaked up huge bonuses, the mortgage brokers who lied to or misled clients, and the regulators who looked the other way while the wheels were falling off. Aren’t these the bozos that got us into this mess? I ask myself, “Honestly, how can the common person be expected to continue investing in the future? How can we keep putting hard-earned taxes into the system and plunging money into our retirement accounts only to have it be piddled away on poor investment strategies and bailouts for companies who haven’t been doing the right thing the entire time?” These companies employee the same people who keep repeating the mantra, “Don’t worry that your investment portfolio has lost half of its value. Stick with it for the long-term.”
“Why do they keep saying this?” I ask. Is it because they actually care about their investors? Or is it just so they can get more of our money to pay their bonuses, buy their corporate jets, and rack up extravagant expense reports? Do we have much choice but to “stick it out” now? What about the people that had to “stick it out” for the last thirty years and were ready to retire? Now they have to “stick it out” for another ten or fifteen years.
But I’m not naive. I also believe that we as a society must shoulder much of the responsibility when it comes to the situation in which we now find ourselves. We can’t just blame others for this mess. We have to take a good hard look at ourselves. That’s where my confidence in American society has faltered. Over the last ten years, I have watched this country blindly stumble into the tech bubble and now we’ve plowed headlong into the real estate bubble/credit crisis. One begins to question whether society will ever begin to learn from its mistakes. It’s defeating to watch people snatch up overpriced homes, banking their hopes on high-interest loans they don’t understand and steady home appreciation, charging fearlessly ahead while racking up credit card debt as they purchase new cars and flat screen televisions.
It reminds me of cattle stampeding toward the edge of a precipice. In this case, those leading the herd were too blinded by greed, and those following were too ignorant to realize that certain doom lay just ahead. It makes you wonder when or if people will ever discover that not all good things can last. When will they learn to save for a rainy day? When will they learn to do without?
My hope is that this crisis will teach us our lesson and make us stronger, at least for several decades. Then, just as what happened after the Great Depression, the current generation’s memories will begin to fade. Newer, more optimistic and less experienced leaders will begin to think that they are far too advanced, too prepared, and too intelligent, for such a thing as this ever to happen again. Then it will happen again, and people will scratch their heads and wonder how they didn’t see it coming.
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