As someone not currently collecting a long-term salary from any employer, I resonate with Ben Stein’s words in Everybody’s Business – Deep in Debt, and Now Deep in Worry – NYTimes.com:
MY work as a freelance writer in Hollywood some time ago prepared me for extreme uncertainty. This is the most insecure existence imaginable. It mandates saving, ingenuity and nonstop work and creativity. Freelancers never have a day off. Never. They know that they can go months without a check. They absolutely have to save. They have to have five different levels of fall-back plans and financial escape hatches.
Besides getting angry, what can one do in response to the outrageous behavior of irresponsible people in the financial services sector — which was well dissected by Krugman in The Madoff Economy:
The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Is any way to get reform enacted to keep the Wall Street fat cats from driving the system off the cliff again, often still collecting bonuses they didn’t deserve? Or am I just unfairly singling out bankers for something we all share collective responsibility? That’s the argument put forth recently by Henry Blodget in The Atlantic Online Why Wall Street Always Blows It?:
Who’s to blame for the current crisis? As usually happens after a crash, the search for scapegoats has been intense, and many contenders have emerged: Wall Street swindled us; predatory lenders sold us loans we couldn’t afford; the Securities and Exchange Commission fell asleep at the switch; Alan Greenspan kept interest rates low for too long; short-sellers spread negative rumors; “experts” gave us bad advice. More-introspective folks will add other explanations: we got greedy; we went nuts; we heard what we wanted to hear.All of these explanations have some truth to them. Predatory lenders did bamboozle some people into loans and houses they couldn’t afford. The SEC and other regulators did miss opportunities to curb some of the more egregious behavior. Alan Greenspan did keep interest rates too low for too long (and if you’re looking for the single biggest cause of the housing bubble, this is it). Some short-sellers did spread negative rumors. And, Lord knows, many of us got greedy, checked our brains at the door, and heard what we wanted to hear.
But most bubbles are the product of more than just bad faith, or incompetence, or rank stupidity; the interaction of human psychology with a market economy practically ensures that they will form. In this sense, bubbles are perfectly rational—or at least they’re a rational and unavoidable by-product of capitalism (which, as Winston Churchill might have said, is the worst economic system on the planet except for all the others). Technology and circumstances change, but the human animal doesn’t. And markets are ultimately about people.
Should I stop dealing with banks? pull my money out of the stock market? treat bankers with disdain? How should I put my anger to productive use instead of just ranting against the fat cats who were supposed to know what they were doing?