Staff column: Point fingers in the right direction
When I first came to Price about 18 years ago, I worked with a young man who wasn't making much money, but bought a brand new car. While the car wasn't anything too fancy, it was still a chunk of change considering his small part time hourly wage.
"I know things will improve financially as I finish school in a year or two, so I bought it on a special loan they were offering at the dealership," he said. " I don't have to make a payment for three years. By that time I should be in much better financial shape."
I was really taken back by this. Being a near 40 fuddy duddy at the time, with lots of experience concerning bad financial transactions (many of which I had engaged in over the years) I imagined him making high payments on a car that was at least half worn out for five years after he began paying for it. He would be over his head in that car until the last six months of payments.
I don't know what happened to him because not long after that he quit school and went to work in one of the mines. I haven't seen him since. With a good mining job he may have paid it off in a couple of years, or maybe he just got deeper into debt and then ended up with an old car that had a lot of debt attached to it.
Americans as a whole have always been an optimistic group. We always think things will be better in the future, and that our kids will have more wealth, a more peaceful world and better health care than we have.
A year ago I heard friends of mine boasting about how much money they had made in the stock market. With it nearly reaching 14,000, many predicted 20,000 or higher within a year or two. Anyone who has been following the news knows that 14,000 is almost halved now, with most of the loss coming in the last couple of months.
Since World War II, we have had this kind of egocentric view of the world economy. Everything revolved around us; and at first that was true. We, our allies and our enemies during the war had bombed almost everything outside of the western hemisphere flat, and many countries had no economy. So we, the industrial powerhouse of the world, raised a group of people, largely the baby boomers, who began to spend the money and security our parents (the greatest generation) had accumulated at an alarming rate. What we really did was spend money we didn't have thinking things would get better.
The world's economy used to run on cash. Now it seems, credit is the only thing that counts, unless you run one of the big three automakers (boy is that term outmoded) and then cash reserves right now are pretty important. Who got us into this mess?
As far as I am concerned we can only point the finger at ourselves. Taking out loans on things that we can't afford, or loans on which the payments are deferred in hopes the future will be brighter is not very smart. If someone makes $3,000 a month and they are allowed to buy a house which has a payment of $2900 a month, whose fault is it? The loan institution that allows this may be criminal in it's underwriting, but you can't tell me the house buyer didn't know he was stretching the limits beyond the breaking point. Anyone who can add two and two knows that this kind of loan is a poor choice, regardless of the flip potential of the property.
More than anything however is that I have noticed in the past 30 years no one wants to take responsibility for their actions. Sure, when things go bad, there are often many parties involved in the outcome, but the tendency is to always point fingers at the other guy. This is the way it is with corporations, wall street, financial institutions and government today. Our politicians have become masters of the spin, taking lies and the truth and treating them the same way.
It is easy to say someone else did us wrong or led us into economic hell. But the world economy is now one whether we like it or not. We have shipped our jobs overseas for a few bucks and let our industry languish until we literally have shells of what they once were, because quarterly profits on our 401k's became more important than the long term health of our country. We rant about CEO's and their golden parachutes and how much more they are making than the workers in their same firms. Yet if we were in their position, wouldn't many of us be doing the same thing? We have been taught by a society that values only money and stuff that you get what you can, while you can, because someone else will if you don't.
American's like to blame others for their ills. We blame tobacco companies for pushing products that can kill, yet many still continue to buy them, knowing they are raising their chances of dying young by 100 percent. We blame industrial complexes for poisoning our water and our air, yet we continue to buy their products, supporting that pollution. We blame car companies for building unsafe vehicles, yet we drive faster and faster and become more aggressive the more traffic there is. We blame our leaders for spending too much money and giving into special interests; but that blame only comes when it is someone elses special interest, and not ours. If they vote or make decisions in our interest, despite the ramifications, they are a friend.
We can point our fingers anyway we want; but in reality those fingers should be pointed right at us, the American public for allowing our goverment to give away the store, our industry to leave our shores and ourselves for spending money we never had.