Saturday, February 12, 2011

What We All Knew

What has slowly dawned on me is that I don't really blame bank executives for guzzling down millions of our hard earned dollars in the form of bailouts and bonuses. I don't blame people who took a good deal on a house, took a chance and bought what they thought they could afford. And I don't blame housing markets which (not who) are not capable of ethical decisions - because markets are like mobs.

But I do very squarely blame our elected officials.

Markets are supposed to flow to where there are profits - they are designed to make more money. Bank executives while personally responsible for the greed that contributed to the failure of our housing market and global economy, can't legally be held liable for gross misconduct. They too are like lizards and just follow the reptilian mentality of "make more" and to hell with the "little people".

Homeowners do what consumers do - they bought houses at low interest rates and believed what we've all been told since infancy: homeownership is the American Dream, it's stability, it's responsible and it makes you a good person. Keep your grass cut and good edging shall set you free!! They also believed that they would make more money in the future, so buying a little more house than you can really afford (I can hear real estate agents eagerly encouraging the shiny faced buyer with stars in their eyes) is ok, because you know the bank wouldn't qualify you for something that you really can't afford...

[Btw, the same "we're moving on up" mentality is what makes taxpayers averse generally to higher taxes for the rich, some study has shown. They believe they too will be rich one day, so we don't want to tax the very wealthy because that could be us! (one day) (maybe) (hopefully)]

So that leaves the government - who has a duty to play referee. Some would say it's one of the only clearly proper roles for government, besides protecting the land we stand on, with force if necessary. So we have a standing army, and a Congress, an Administration and a Judicial branch. Let's assume the Judicial isn't going to go out and solve a problem we don't know exists, so therefore don't have legal action which would bring it to their attention. So they are pretty much off the hook.

Let's also remember that Bush jr. was in office, and while he is very bright in many ways, he also got us into the FUBAR mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, and designed "No Child Left Behind" so we can't really expect him to come up with protections for something as significant as the future of generations for the entire global community.

So that leaves one branch of government. I don't expect the people who serve in Congress to come up with all the solutions. I don't expect them to be flawless. Surely we agree they work in an extremely daunting environment of political jujitsu, highly partisan maneuvers and short sightedness (they can be fired every 4 - 6 years). They are charged with spending our money well - and not all of them truly seem to get the gravity of the fiduciary duty to spend our money carefully, conservatively.

They also get to take funds from the business community. Why? Because we have somehow decided that big business gets to have a say in who we elect. But businesses are also faceless corporate entities. Businesses are groups of people, who share but one overriding interest - staying in business, which requires making a profit.

So Congress was the only guard we had against a colossal failure of world markets. Because the US economy has dominated global economics for decades (emerged after WWII) we inherited both the benefits and the responsibility to protect stability everywhere. Now, we have stumbled, and we are at a very crucial turning point. China eagerly jostles to take over the reins of world's leading economy.

This "special" report, released years after the crisis started, finally is complete. And it spreads the blame. But it looks like a whitewash and lacks insights based on basic human behavior (pursuit of profit and the American Dream).

What could have addressed is how the best and brightest minds in the world - in congress but also in our academic, policy and business community - missed the structural failures in business and regulations that led to the worst economic crisis in decades.

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