Sep 17, 2008

When the Wall (Street) Came Down

So the morning shows today, in the wake of yet more "bad" news about the financial companies going under (and Federal takeover of AIG), in addition to the expected comments on Wall Street greed, there was an interesting focus on "Main Street greed." Basically, after name-checking some of the splurging CEOs, they said "hey, it spread to all of us, with our moderate salaries, we were still buying $4 Starbucks, houses we couldn't afford on our salaries because of downpayment-free mortgages, etc etc.

It didn't sit well with me right away and here are the key reasons:

1) CEO greed and my neighbor's "greed" are one thing, but what about corporate greed? In my opinion, the culture of organizational greed far exceeds the impact of individual people grabbing for what they can get. Not only does it push people internally to strive for larger and larger margins, but the voice of common sense (i.e. "WTF are we doing?!") is silenced in the process. There is no room for alternative visions of community wealth or the common good when everyone is pushing for more, and dissent will cut you off from your ambition of rising to the top.

2) You're telling me that the person with the $30,000 salary who buys the $400K house is the reason that the economy is teetering now? Give me a fucking break. Blaming the individuals on the bottom of the economic food chain for the madness at the top is a lie. "Food chains" are an apt analogy: the companies managing the deals and looking the other way from their own economic forecasts were feeding off the dreams of the little guys. Zero-down mortgages have created some of these issues, but keeping people financially illiterate: give them the dream/end goal, but not the roadmap or tools to get there in a way that makes sense for their economic situation, is fraudulent. While the corporations trade in bundled, broken dreams packaged as mortgages in default, the rest of us could either keep sleeping or wake up.

3) Which brings me to my final point this morning: this should be a time to look at systems, more than just individual "greed." Reducing this to a "sin" analysis instead of another damning lesson about free market capitalism misses the point. When I hear people say "we've been here before, and we'll be here again" it makes me want to scream. This is not an inevitable thing, people: we could get some security if we weren't all driving 100 mph towards a cliff all the time. And who's setting that pace? Who's created this culture of greed?

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