My daddy was a private businessman. He operated a very small, independent trucking agency that hauled milk, wood shavings and sawdust all over King and Pierce counties. He felt any individual could improve his status by hard work and prudence and he surely believed in the American capitalistic system.
Yet, this belief withstanding, he didn’t seem to have much faith in the U.S. economy. Throughout most of his life, he predicted another Great Depression was imminent. He didn’t think much of the Wall Street “clowns” who made money by manipulating money and he didn’t think much of people and a government that accumulated credit far beyond their means.
“Some day those bills are gonna come due and there’ll be hell to pay,” he’d say.
Understandably, after hearing such bleak predictions for 40 years, I started to doubt their accuracy.
But today, given the current state of the U.S. economy, it looks like daddy wasn’t that far off base.
My friends, I’m not an economist and I don’t fully understand what’s going on ‚Äì I can take some consolation in the observation that most economists aren’t sure either ‚Äì but certain aspects seem clear. To start with, the basic principles of credit and lending dictates that the parties involved maintain some kind of personal responsibility and common sense. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Like all staunch conservatives, our Bush-league president felt all regulation was a bad thing. He and his merry followers wanted to unleash their business and finance cronies to make and create wealth. So, the Wall Street hedge-funds ‚Äì and I’m not at all certain what these are ‚Äì along with a “financial brain trust” concocted an investment scheme that nothing short of a Harvard mathematician could fully decipher. They justified this mess with the most altruistic of motives: It would allow tens of thousands of Americans to get homes, which is, in many respects, the essence of the American dream.
The financiers created a new “derivative” ‚Äì that is, a new method of repackaging debts. Americans could suddenly buy a home for next to nothing down, with a low but shifting mortgage rate and nothing to pay for several months. Bankers would approve such mortgages (without worrying about regulators), make a bunch of profit and then dump the mortgages in a hedge fund that gathered them all together and issued them as bonds (also beyond the reach of regulators), which were sold all over the world. Of course, the interest and security of these bonds rested upon bad housing loans that never should have been made in the first place.
Everyone involved made money, especially the Wall Street fat cats. I don’t believe for a moment that they were concerned about the “little guy” getting a house, though in Wall Street circles there’s an unswerving belief that when Wall Street makes money everyone is better off; thus, the unbridled cheer that shakes the exchange when ever the Dow goes up another 100 points.
But, needless to say, this entire financial scheme collapsed like a house of cards. It’s most obvious in the Stock Market plunge, but this was triggered not by a sudden stock selloff, but by the worldwide loss of confidence in the bond market. Our country has lapsed into the worst economic crisis since that Depression my daddy always talked about. So far, more than a dozen banks and high-powered Wall Street firms have gone under. The government has started bailing everyone out, adding perhaps another $3 trillion to the national debt, which we can ill afford.
In retrospect, the whole thing was a gamble. We like to think America’s high-roller financiers are giving us better odds than you get on the Muckleshoot craps table, but apparently that hasn’t been the case.
More next week.