Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Enemy Within

With the shape our country is in, I can't help but think we've been pretty lousy stewards of the rich inheritance we were given by those who came before us. What we are fixing to pass on to my 9-year-old son's generation is not the America I want him to inherit. It is damaged goods.

We all should have known better. It's been 30 years, but I still remember sitting in economics classes in college and on more than one occasion listening to professors say with a straight face that America's economy was depression-proof because of monetary and fiscal policy tools and regulatory protections that didn't exist when the country descended into the Great Depression.

Seemed to make sense at the time. But now their instruction seems flimsier with each passing day.

Those professors failed to account for the possibility that bought-and-paid-for politicians might one day tear down the post-Depression-era walls between banking, investment and insurance companies. And they seriously erred in placing such faith in the infallibility of the Fed and the public-spiritedness of the Congress and White House.

College professors aren't the only ones who should have known better. That goes for all of us.

We should have gotten to know Charles Ponzi better so we could recognize him when he came our way again. We didn't. He did return, this time by the name of Bernard Madoff. Despite 10 years' worth of warnings, Ponzi wasn't noticed until after Madoff made off with tens of billions of dollars of our money.

Hollywood warned us 20-some years ago with Gordon Gekko. Real life warned us with the likes of Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. The warnings went unheeded.

We should have learned the lessons of Vietnam. Instead we idly watched most all the same mistakes repeated in Iraq. And then some.

Even the best and brightest among us – from college professors and high-ranking public officials to captains of industry and the media intelligentsia – are living proof of what a comic strip told us about ourselves over 35 years ago.

Extremely difficult days lie ahead. Yes, to a sometimes substantial degree we are victims of forces beyond our control. But we also are largely to blame for our fate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As much as the worst president in American history, George W. Bush, deserves his share of the blame for what has happened on Wall Street, it also should be remembered that Bill Clinton played a big role in creating the monster of derivative speculation by signing the "Financial Services Modernization Act" in 1999, which destroyed the financial hallmark of the New Deal, the Glass-Steagell Act of 1933, which separated commercial and investment banking.