Friday, July 16, 2010

Economics 101

I barely remember my undergrad economics class, but I've lived in this country all my life and have learned very well that we are proud of our capitalist system and believe there is no better system on which to build a nation. I guess I'm to the point where the teenager starts questioning whether his parents acutally know what they're talking about, becuase I'm wondering if our system really is the best...

In a recent e-newsletter I received, there was this excerpt from a Wall Street Journam piece:
Gregg Sherrill, WSJ – “Because the financial crisis and resulting recession caused so much pain, a bashing of our entire free enterprise system may have been inevitable. My fear is that by remaining quiet in the face of this onslaught, we have allowed it to intensify. In fact, other than those companies that were a part of the system of easy credit and disguised risk that so spectacularly collapsed, American business as a whole has nothing whatsoever to apologize for. The good news is that despite the political cacophony, and our silence, most Americans still instinctively understand this. According to a recent analysis in The Economist magazine, the overwhelming majority of Americans say they prefer the free enterprise system to any collectivist alternative. In one such poll, as the Economist reports in a feature titled ‘The 70-30 Nation,’ the Pew Research Center asked respondents whether they were better off in a free market rather than a socialist economy ‘even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.’ Seventy percent said yes.”

I'm not convinced that the companies that have failed were the only ones that had things to apologize for. I doubt that the other large finance companies and banks weren't making money off of risky loans and easy credit - just maybe not in as high a percentage as some of the others that didn't make it. And while we hear lots of blasting of those companies (and now have a new financial reform bill addressing them), what about those actual people who are down and out in the midst of everything leveling back out? Do they understand why they shouldn't have had those mortgages? Do they know how to make sure that they don't get into that bind again? Do they even have a place to live and/or work right now?

I'm not surprised by the survey results that say Americans believe their system is the better option - we always think we have it better. I can't think of a time when we've admitted that we were wrong as a country. I don't know what would be better - there are days I think I could be a socialist and there are days that I think we just need to tweak our current system - and I certainly don't have any kind of economic expertise, but I do see families struggling every day and I see how surprised they are to learn that they have at least some control over their credit, their savings, and can make things better by just making some different choices. You'd be surprised at how many people don't know what their options are. Perhaps instead of focusing on the economics, we should be looking at how we teach each other about our personal choices in the system...

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