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The newspapers lately have been full of doom and gloom.
The newspapers lately have been full of doom and gloom. In the United States, the housing market is collapsing and foreclosures are skyrocketing, the Dow Jones average is down 2,000 points, interest rates are up, the price of fuel — primarily gasoline — is soaring, the dollar’s value continues to fall against other currencies and the R word (recession) is the topic of nearly every other front page article. Folks wring their hands, wondering how this happened — or, in many cases, how the government let this happen. Being an election year, the angst is pushed to outlandish levels by well-financed, national finger pointing. The Fed (US Federal Reserve), the nation’s omnipresent economic school marm, has attempted to step in with economic stimuli, to little avail thus far. By any measure, it appears we are in a pickle.
The rush to affix blame is on. Unscrupulous lenders are accused of underpinning house sales with impossibly risky, variable interest loans to folks that were clearly unqualified to borrow anywhere near the amount tendered. The government has done next to nothing to defend the dollar abroad. Market speculators have been allowed to run rampant. Burgeoning health care costs have gone unchecked. The automakers continue to foist gas guzzling automobiles upon an unsuspecting public and, of course, the double-fisted, malevolent, money grabbing oil and gas industry has raised the price of oil to unheard of levels in the pursuit of defenseless profits. Have you heard it before — maybe yesterday?
There is only one thing (well more than that, but I only have a page) wrong with these accusations. For the public as a whole, they are wildly self delusional. Take the foreclosure issue and housing market crisis for instance. There is no doubt that lenders offered ridiculously lax terms for mortgages. However, if you or I are the head of a four-person household making US $40,000 per year, with two children to feed, clothe and educate (with, of course, the requisite two automobiles) we are — well — stretched to the maximum financially. What, then, if we were offered a mortgage on a $200,000 house at a fixed rate that we can hardly afford for the first year and variable rates thereafter? What might make us think we could afford the house with any increase in the variable rate? Why, self delusion, of course.
Or, take the automobile industry as an example. During the last oil price crisis American automakers turned production to smaller, more fuel-efficient automobiles. When the crisis ended — wham — back we went to gas guzzlers, often times more inefficient than any automobiles we had used before. As in the lending industry, there is no question that American automakers make fuel-inefficient automobiles. But, as the price of oil has escalated, Americans have continued to buy gas guzzlers. It would appear that the automakers are making what Americans want to buy.
To compound the issue, we have increased massively our expenditures on energy intensive goods. The amount of energy consumed by connected but unattended electronic devices alone is staggering. In short, wherever possible, the average American has consumed as much as possible whenever possible, and most of that consumption has been of the energy intensive variety. This is not to deny that some Americans have not practiced conservation of energy. However, the total number of those individuals would not equal an ink spot on a wall map of the globe.
Cool in the summer, warm in the winter and addicted to consumption, we wring our hands and ask how this could have happened. How could $100 oil and questionable real estate transactions have driven us to the point of recession?
No company in America (government vendors excepted) has stayed in business long producing goods or services for which there is no demand. It’s the way we are set up as a semi-free market economy. If the American business sector is a conspirator in this crisis, it is a minor one, at best. Most Americans know the chief conspirator. They look at him/her each day in the mirror. Now, if you think that this is solely an American problem, hold on to your hat. As they used to say at the movies in the good old days, “coming to a theater near you.”