Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How to break up with Wall Street and Still Be Friends

It’s safe to say America’s love affair with Wall Street has come to a tumultuous and dramatic end. We tried to make it work, we really did. But our trust, placed with good intentions, was broken too many times in pursuit of greater prosperity. A break-up was inevitable, really, when you think about it. Wall Street has selfishly put its own needs before ours for years now, in what could be arguably deemed an abusive relationship. The veritable collision course was set as we continued to indulge in blissful ignorance over the frivolity of $300,000 homes we couldn’t afford and spending far beyond our means in spite of the wolf criers’ warnings.
I suppose we hoped, rather than believed, as they say, that a fancy new car (but it gets better gas mileage, which will save us money!) and this seasons’ latest “it purse” (but I’m pumping money into the economy!) would fix everything.

They didn’t.

And now, we’re left picking up pieces of the shit that hit the fan—all while hoping to God that the fan itself won’t come crashing down on top of us in the process. It’s messy and painful. The only thing easy about it is jumping to the conclusion that this is all Wall Street’s fault.

It’s not.

The signs of an imbalanced relationship were there and yet we continually cuddled up with our credit cards when Wall Street “worked late.” We went on lavish vacations, bought homes and cars we shouldn’t have, got manis and pedis and massages and cashmere and Jordans and iPods and a whole bunch of crap we don’t need and won’t want in a few months time.

To be fair, not all of us were ridiculously imprudent. Those of us who couldn’t afford any of the afore-mentioned, superficial ego-boosters even when times were good, are now navigating through even more dire straights. It’s not that we can’t afford to buy as much gas as we used to, it’s that we can’t afford to buy any at all. We work two jobs just to get into Section 8 housing with plumbing that’s never worked and neighbors who are either crack dealers, prostitutes or both. We eat ramen noodles and McDonald’s dollar menu delicacies and pray to God our children stay out of enough trouble to finish school. Sometimes when we feel like hoping against all hope, we dream that they will get a basketball scholarship and be able to go college—but that kind of optimism is too dangerous to indulge in on a regular basis. Or at least that’s how it feels when the cards are so decidedly stacked against you and only the most determined souls are able to make it out of poverty’s vicious cycle and get any of the trickle coming from our country's top-down economic system.

The “haves” and the “have nots” now have several things in common. One: We are all scared out of our minds because even the best jobs, with the biggest financial brokers, are no longer secure. Two: We have little to no savings to deal with losing our jobs. Three: We all got screwed by Wall Street’s reckless behavior and we all have to live with the reality that in order to save ourselves, we have to save theirs as well.

Talk about hard to stomach.

Americans, as concerned as we are about a recession that was perilously close to developing into a second Great Depression and that will still reach almost every single one of us, are more concerned with the injustice that comes in “bailing out” the bad guy. It just doesn’t still well with our sense of fairness at all. Wall street screwed us over and now we have to be the bigger person—which, P.S. still sucks regardless of knowing you are being the bigger person.

So take a deep breath America and suck it all up. This won’t be fun, easy or pretty. But that, my friends and foes, is the great thing about Americans. When it really comes down to it, and we know we’ve run out of options, we know how to gut it out. Or at least we used to—maybe we need to sit down and have a reality check with grandma and grandpa about what it took to get through the Great Depression and World War II. And maybe we’ll find a silver lining in the lesson this will teach us about how habits and living out the values we’ve been pretending to live out.

The American dream is about life, liberty and the pursuit. But it’s also about guts, determination and loyalty to the greater good. We seem to have forgotten about those three in the midst of our personal prosperity and constant success. Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked down and feel a little pain to regain your motivation to be who you truly are. This is such a moment and there’s only one thing to do-well actually there’s three. 1) Get over ourselves. 2) Grin and bear it. 3) Demand a change in the system so we don't get fooled twice.

God, You’ve got to love a break up.

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