Hangover from the Bailout Party

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

Let's face it, we screwed up. In the decade before 2008, the financial world was like a presidential inauguration ball.

"Another day older and deeper in debt"
-Merle Travis
"Flounder: You _______ up - you trusted us."
-Otter in the movie Animal House. 
Let's face it, we screwed up.
In the decade before 2008, the financial world was like a presidential inauguration ball. 
On Inauguration day, there is a ball where only the closest insiders and Washington power players get invited.
There are also a lot of parties around town, so just about everybody in Washington feels like they were part of the event.
For a decade, Wall Street was playing funny money games.  They were allowed to grant themselves multi-million dollar bonuses, and many Americans also felt like they were invited to the celebration.
Real estate prices were soaring.  People were flipping houses and condos.  People with lousy credit and no income were living in nice houses.  Almost anyone could get a loan for anything.  
Stock prices were going up and pension plans were getting fatter.  State and local governments had lot of money to throw around and could cut taxes without anyone really noticing.
We had easy money and reaped many benefits without hard work or sacrifice. 
We were living in fantasy land.  
The fantasy is over.  We woke up to a nightmare.
A nightmare that our nation has not yet dealt with.
People with addictions go through a process called "bottoming out."  They reach a point where they realize their actions are hurting themselves or others.  They get help and dramatically change their lives.
Because of the Wall Street bailouts, America never got the chance to "bottom out."
Like a drunk who keeps "having a drink or two," America has not really dealt with the problems that got us in the mess.
Like an addict who keeps using, we are setting ourselves up for repeat failure.
I've been reading Maria Bartiromo's new book, The Weekend That Changed Wall Street.  A better title might have been "The Weekend that Changed the World."
It was America's chance to bottom out.  We didn't.  To paraphrase Otter in Animal House, we screwed up.  We mortgaged the future to make Wall Street happy today.
I liked Bartiromo's book. One of her insights jumped out at me.
In talking about the fall from grace that some Wall Street insiders felt, she noted "When the wealthy falter, there is a deep shame that the average person cannot grasp.  In that world, you are either in or you're out."
That line explains everything.  Wall Street was in.  They had the right lobbyists and had an alumni association from Goldman Sachs, including Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, doing their bidding in Washington.
Those who came from Wall Street looked out for their own.  They made sure their Wall Street cronies were paid back, 100 cents on the dollar.
The rest of us were out. And we have stayed there.
Unemployment remains around 10% and underemployment is even more chronic.  Sales of existing homes are at a 15-year low, despite some of the lowest mortgage rates in history.    It's almost impossible for a Main Street business to get financing and state and local government entities are looking at severe cuts in revenues and services.
We've spent trillions in bailout money and all we got was "One day older and deeper in debt."
Although it sounds gloomy, I'm not a gloomy person by nature.  With focus, hard work and resiliency, people can overcome any obstacle.
 Including what Wall Street and Washington did to us.
People can solve problems by taking a hard look at themselves and making changes.  
Washington is afraid to take that hard look or make real changes.  Our political "leaders" won't do anything that cuts off the campaign contributions and lobbying money that Wall Street provides.

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