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Saturday, October 4, 2008

There are just more chocolate bars than fruits, it's a fact

First and foremost, a source of inspiration...recently in my podcast obsession I found a nice little one entitled "The Definitive Word", apart of a larger podcast blog...a blogcast, if you will (Simply Syndicated- although it would be easier to find them in the iTunes podcast store, honestly) .  Basically, it's a couple of British guys who discuss "21st Century Living" - essentially, Sociology 101 from guys who don't have Sociology degrees or anything.  They talk about a wide variety of topics from Transport, Beer, Growing Up, Fat Nation, etc...just to name a few.  Their general disposition and format of discussion is very similar to what I would like to promote maybe we just need to pick out a weekly time to hop on Skype, kick back some drinks and shoot the breeze with whatever topic we decide is to be discussed that week.  Either way, it's a good source of inspiration and opinions, as we can easily contrast and compare off of them.

Secondly, anticipate a novel of a post here as I am stripping and waxing a large area at work and will likely be within the same 20x20 square for the next 6 hours or so and a lot of that time will be spent waiting for wax to dry...oh what fun.

So jumping off my previous post - personal responsibility, dumbing down, the bailout and society's other various problems.

First, let's start with the bailout proposal, since I think this is an excellent real world situation that kind of deals with a lot of the issues we're discussing here.  Here is a pretty good summation of the bill which recently passed - House Approves Historic Bailout.  Now, I don't claim to be well informed enough to confidently say I know that this was wrong or this was right, however, based on what I do know, I have been able to form my own opinion.  If you are better informed than me and I make a mistake, or don't understand something correctly, please let me know.  So let's go over how we got to this point, the way I understand it.

1) Housing boom - people buy up houses like crazy thanks to low interest rates and relaxed credit requirements.

2) Housing crash - predictably, these people with bad credit can't pay their loans...also, the banks raise the interest rates on houses over time to turn a profit and more people can't pay.  Lot's of foreclosures.

3) Natural Recession in Economy - come on, no economy can grow continuously, so it slows down...there are so many factors involved in this, I don't even think I could imagine going into exact details (even if I knew them all).

4) Gas Price - as gas prices go up, so does the cost of all goods and services, further reducing the economy's growth potential.  The gas price increase wasn't helped by the very costly war in Iraq (not to point fingers or anything).

~I'd like to break here to bring up something...World War II got us out of the depression as the war effort in general created jobs (this wasn't the only factor at work here, but it was a primary key to the economic boom of that decade).  Can anybody think of any other American war that has actually hurt the economy any more than this one?  What's different this time?

5) Denial - so here in Michigan, we were the first to realize that we were in trouble as the auto industry was the first to fall and it fell hard (ask Port Huron, Flint, Detroit) and yet, during the primary election season, we saw commercials telling us "It's unheard of for Michigan to be in a one state regression when the rest of the nation is thriving" - really?  Thriving?  I notice now how that candidate isn't one of the two remaining candidates...probably not a coincidence because he obviously has no concept of what's going on.  For far too long, this issue was ignored.  Things were tight, but not bad enough that people would admit that the economy was in trouble and now the economy is in so much trouble that the government has to, essentially, give free money to the banking system that is struggling to hold up our economy.

So who is to blame for this problem we're in?  Is it the greedy bankers and Wall Street gurus for their get-rich-quick scheme of lending money to people with bad credit with low initial interest rates only to jack them up when the rest of the economy started getting them down?  How about the people who bought these homes and then came up unable to pay their mortgages and having to go into foreclosure?  (On a side-question - is it wrong to want the American dream of owning one's own home for their family?  I know as a fact I will not be able to own a home until I am at least 35 - pending any lottery winnings or unexpected inheritances - because of mistakes I have made in the past few years and my continued troubles with credit and money) Is it the credit system in general (wasn't this one of the main contributing factors in the great depression?)?  Is it the leaders who sent us into a costly war (without getting too far into the politics of if we needed to go in or not, although that's obviously tied in and will probably need to be discussed on another day)?  Is it the gas companies or our nation's current energy policies (preserving domestic oil, not enough emphasis on alternative fuel sources, etc...)?  Is it quite simply that we just didn't do enough, as a nation, soon enough to avoid this?  Was this inevitable or avoidable at all?  And I would like to mention now that this is a global crisis we are entering here; it's not just here at home.  I know for certain that the housing market crash is the same, if not worse, in most of developed Europe and I firmly believe we are just entering the first string of a very bad series of events that will drastically change the course of (the global) us as a society - nay, a civilization...a species.

Essentially - all of those seemingly random and rambling inquiries sums up to one question; who, if anybody, can us hold ACCOUNTABLE for the impending economic crisis?  And anybody with any political ties, I implore you to get that answer out of either candidate (townhouse debate potential?).

~Election side note - as I'm focusing primarily on the economy in this post, although it will soon be turning to more existential topics branched from this reality, I would like to mention how pleased I am with how much focus is being put on the economy in the overall election coverage.  For far too long, I feel, that the issue was ignored or sugar-coated and no longer are we seeing it with those rose-tinted glasses and we're demanding action from our next president and I think that's quite admirable, if nothing else.

Now my personal thoughts on the matter are this - we are all responsible for this mess.  Some more than others, obviously, but responsible none the less...and I think it comes down to one flaw we share - excessive spending and it starts at the top.  What kind of credit report do you think our nation would have if it were a person?  Sure it's got the income...but it's got more expenses than income.  It's already got an impressive amount of debt, very little of which has been paid back.  In the past couple of years, it's had a frightening increase in amount of debt accrued (a red flag for all credit companies if you have a sudden increase in your credit requests).  I bet we'd be hard pressed to find a good personal reference right now as well.  How do we keep borrowing money?


Now I'll be the first to admit, I have an overspending problem as well...I think we as a society have this problem.  Not only do we spend funds we don't necessarily have on things we don't need, we far outspend our own means, setting ourselves up for future failure.  What does this mean?  Well you know how the housing market crashed because people with bad credit couldn't keep up with their debt?  How are our nation’s fortunes going to be any different?  America has bad credit and our debt is reaching ridiculous proportions with only more in the foreseeable future.  Somebody in the future is going to have to pay that bill, because we've been passing that buck around for far too long and when it catches up with us...well, I hope I'm not around then because it's going to be crippling.  You think the Great Depression was bad?

~Paragraph side-note: thoughts in my mind are so muddled, I wonder if cows sleep standing up like horses, and if all hoofed animals sleep this way (looking at you giraffes, zebras) and somehow, the jargon you just read comes out.  My apologies if I occasionally don't make sense or aren't clear and concise enough to get my point across.  Questions are welcome and encouraged!  Any interaction is highly motivating for me and others to continue to writing for this community.

So let's hop back on topic to the bailout.  So the banks tell the government that because of this housing market crashing, along with the recession in the economy and whatever other determining factors...the banks are in debt.  Let me get this straight - the banks...are in debt.  Who, exactly, does a bank borrow money from?  Oh yeah - it's customers!  So the banks admit to squandering away America's money.  Already you can tell this is a great situation.  So the banks tell the government that they messed up and need a little help.  Okay...a lot of help.  In exchange for adding a devastating amount to the national debt (in the grand scheme of things, doesn't this feel a bit like paying off a credit card...with another credit card?) we, the American people who are essentially paying for this...whether it be now or later, the buck still gets passed to the taxpayers...get no guaranteed returns unless the government gets back it's share first.  There are some other political stipulations that I don't fully understand nor am in the mood to research, but that's essentially the deal to my understanding.  I'll admit, I'm putting a pretty negative spin on it, it seems, and I'll openly admit I'm biased against it and the more I understand, the more my passion for that stance grows.  So what could make this deal worse?  The individuals - the CEOs, the boards, etc...All the decision makers behind these banks are still in control!  So the government is basically saying, "Everyone fucks up, it's going to be okay."  NO!  You failed at your job!  You make a disproportionate salary based on a title and you didn't do the job you were hired for successfully!  You get fired!  If I overspent and had to borrow money I didn't have guess what...I'd be fired!  I'm essentially running a small business here, although I have nice perks like a steady income and corporate support, but the fundamentals are the same - stay within your budget and promote company growth - that's it!  Those are two main tasks of any company leader...and it's a tricky give take because growth costs, so you can't grow beyond your immediate means.  There is no reason that these irresponsible executives should be allowed to stay in control of companies they clearly have not been successful running in the past.

So now 'passing the buck' is becoming, not only the trend, but the policy?  Okay - that's a problem.  And this is where I kind of sway into the concept of responsibility.  I agree with Heather on this one - we are coddling our children too much and we are not reinforcing the concept that actions have consequences.    Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for child self-esteem and encouraging them to dream big, but in that - we need to also keep them realistic.  You're not going to graduate college and fall into a high paying - you get entry level and you get to toll away in the dregs for awhile.  Tough shit - that's life.  You're not going to get married and live in the house you grew up in - your parents worked long and hard to get there, you're not going to get there overnight.  Too often parents hide the harsh realities of the real world from their children in hopes of "protecting" them.  So the children can hold on to that innocent naïveté for that much longer...only to have it come crashing down when that bubble bursts upon entering a world where mistakes are strongly punished and jobs aren't as easy to come by as doing some extra chores for your parents over the weekend.  Essentially, we are destroying the next generation's immunity to the hardships of adulthood.  Some will adjust, sure, but most won't.  So we have an impending financial crisis thanks to America's poor credit score and an incoming workforce unable to cope with hardship.  Wow - if that's not a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is.

I have two more real life questions to pose in terms of personal responsibility - smoking and obesity.  Let's start with smoking as the government is stepping in more and more in order to discourage this very unhealthy lifestyle choice.  I can tell you now I am for banning smoking in enclosed public areas (bars, restaurants, etc...) for the simple fact that myself, as a non-smoking patron, am not given a choice as to whether or not I want to inhale those toxic fumes.  When we're outside, as long as you're not standing in a doorway or something where I have no choice but to walk through your bad decision, I don't care - do what you want, it's your body.  However - is more action required?  Should we expect our government to increasingly get involved?  Police are enlisted whenever someone has the potential to harm themselves or others - in my mind, smoking can fall under this category, can it not?  Is there a line of fine print there that says 'potential harm must be immediate'?  I understand that this is a personal choice to smoke and, in America, you have to be 18 or older to buy which in most accepted logic, is a reasonable enough age to make educated choice in the matter.  It's this little detail that brings us to obesity...let's face it - we're fat.  I am responsible for what I eat.  It is my choice if I grab that Snickers bar or that apple.  I know that cutting pop out of my diet would greatly improve my overall health and longevity, and yet, I give in much more frequently than I would ideally.  I am an adult and if I become obese - it is as a result of my own choices.  That being said - who is responsible for the overall health and well being of the children?  Is it the parents?  The government via school system?  Food companies?  Surely we cannot hold the children accountable as we've already determined that education decisions cannot be made until the age of 18 has been reached (by the way - the concept that once a certain age has been achieved, suddenly we are much wiser and responsible is bull...just saying).  So parents, who pig out on junk food all day as part of their own personal choices feed their children the same crap regardless of their educated desire to be healthy or eat better.  The schools, stretched for money, offer a sub-standard healthy alternative or the cheapest junk they can put together.  Food companies blitz the market attracting children to their product.  Should the government step in and put regulations on food deemed unhealthy?  Obesity is a much more deadly force than cigarettes, it effects many more people and often times, goes unchecked.  Perhaps taxing snack foods and pop or offering some sort of benefit (other than good health) for buying fruits or vegetables would be enough of an intervention?  I don't know.

Jumping around to the concept of dumbing down I brought up a post or two ago, I think there is an element of this in our societal trend.  In public schools, many have deemphasized a lot of the computer based courses under the ideology that typing skills will be sufficient enough to land any high school grad a job.  We already know music and sports are on the decline for financial reasons...  I think pop culture has begun simplifying itself (not in a classic way or in a statement fashion) and people are pandering to it for lack of alternatives (or pop culture is pandering to people's lower standards...why make quality work when shoddy will sell the same?)

Okay - so topics for discussion that are bringing down America, and probably to an extent - lack of responsibility (pass the buck mentality...which isn't that far off from Rand's anti-dog-eat-dog dystopia in some respects), the combination of instant gratification along with self-entitlement (things come easy mentality) and the ideology that the bare minimums are all that's required for success (do enough mentality).  I know I didn't touch on these probably as much as I would have liked, but I think I'm kind of typed out for the night (see wicked long post you're currently reading) and I'm just about done with my project.  I hope this post kind of brings up at least a few ghosts from our past and starts some conversation.


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