We Have Lost Our Human Center

We Have Lost Our Human Center

As I watched the stock market plunge this afternoon I though of the Wizard of Oz. I feel like I have been transported to some foreign country, where good and evil do battle before my eyes. Where life is magnified, and the colors of our lives are intensified beyond reason.

There’s the Good Wall Street and the Evil Wall Street. It’s the grease that lubricates the world’s financial engine, but also the thief that steals your life’s savings.

There’s the Good Congressman and the Bad Congressman, and they can be one in the same. Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd and Nancy Pelosi are working yeoman’s hours trying to hammer out a deal. But it was Dodd and Frank that blocked an investigation in Fannie Mae back as far as 2002, when it became apparent that our government oversight wasn’t strong enough. Dodd has received the greatest payoffs from Fannie Mae, totaling more than $100,000. Now he’s helping to lead the charge in the solution. Something is strangely warped here.

Republicans have to shoulder a big chunk of the blame on this one, too. They have been champions of fewer regulations in the financial world. In theory, less regulation means more efficiency. I have been in the financial services industry, and I know this to be true. Advisors can spend (literally) half their time filling out forms. Greater regulations mean greater inefficiencies and less profitability. Less profitability means fewer jobs and less tax revenue.

The problem is this: Crooks always find a way around regulations. And when you make it as easy as we did, they have a license to steal. Yes, we made if far too easy this time. And we allowed a single “product” to permeate the entire fabric of our economy, seeping into it like blood. It is like we went on vacation and left the door wide open.

As the man opens up the door to his house, he says, “Damn, Martha, I thought I might have left that back door ajar when we went away on that hard-earned vacation. Someone’s done backed up a U-Haul to our place and stolen every damn thing we had.”

Martha looks inside and says, “At least they cleaned up and closed the door behind them, George. And we got off easy. I hear that the Stewarts had their whole house stolen.”

“Their whole house?”

“From the foundation up.”

“That sucks.”

“Uh, huh.”

“And they are good people, too.”

Well-mannered crooks are crooks will take anything and everything they can. Including your house.

I have always been a champion of Wall Street and of business. Business provides jobs and produces the things that improve our lives. Wall Street helps provide the capital needed for businesses to grow and thrive. My experience (in business and in economics) has led me to believe that a dollar in the hands of a productive person produces far more than a dollar in someone’s mattress.

This time though, the “big game” wasn’t producing much beyond phantom profits. It was a shell game. Now, I don’t blame Wall Street for playing the game; that’s their job. They are in business to make money, for themselves and their clients.

But this whole shell game trickled from Wall Street to Main Street, becoming so large that it spread like the Asian flu. Wall Street got greedy. And they allowed themselves to become ignorant to reality. They refused to look beyond the money machine to its inner workings.

AIG (among others) marketed their services to unsophisticated bankers who thought that the word “guarantee” actually meant something. They showed bankers how they could borrow from others (depositors and the Fed) and invest in CDOs (mortgage backed securities), with AIG guaranteeing the interest and make a “guaranteed” profit. That is, until the mortgage holders default.

All of this mess might have been manageable, except that it became like a drug habit. Everyone needed more and more. Underwriting standards grew lax. And FRAUD prevailed.

Wall Street quants had created beautiful (and complicated) algorithms that dealt with every conceivable market scenario, showing that these things were “rock solid.” The thing that the quants couldn’t predict was true human behavior.

Humans are a complex animal. Our emotions have not been able to keep up with our intellectual development. So, while our intellect is in the 21st century, our emotions are barely out of the Middle Ages.

Look at the world and try to tell me that we aren’t in some emotional time warp. We’ve got suicide bombers igniting themselves every day, with thoughts of 70 virgins. We’ve got genocide occurring in dozens of countries today, as I write this. We’ve got a Congress that is playing politics as our economy bleeds to death.

I have watched our great nation take several steps toward becoming a second-tier nation in the past few weeks. Our national debt has nearly doubled. We are preparing a $700 billion bailout package that will be only a band-aid that might stop some of the bleeding. Healing will take far more. Far more.

I am beginning to wonder if we are reaching the limits of our emotional capacity to handle the complexity and change in our lives.

I am beginning to wonder if we must develop some new paradigm for living, something that will allow us to cope with the multiple facets of government, of business and of juggling far too many things in our personal lives.

For example: Texting while driving is becoming a hot topic. People are crashing trains and cars because they are texting friends while they steer. While driving in cars, people are texting while listening to the radio, taking drags of the morning cigarette, drinking coffee and reading the paper in stop and go traffic. We talk on the phone while cooking. We text on the PDA while talking on the phone. We jab at our Blackberry’s between quarters at our kid’s football games. We never stop.

Maybe we need a new law from Congress, one that mandates solitude and rest.

If our government can start nationalizing businesses…If they can create new regulations that make it more and more impossible to succeed…If they can tax business so much that a national treasure like Budweiser (the Great American Beer) is better off being foreign owned because taxes are far lower overseas…If they can halt the sale of junk food…If they can ban smoking in privately-owned condos (I am not a smoker, but smokers have rights, too)…If they can force us to drive certain cars…Or carry our own bags into the supermarket…Then, certainly government can come up with a law that makes us better and better adjusted people.

I say that we have a mandated day where we have to do little, except spend time with our families. It should be a time for reflection, a time without multi-tasking and stretching our limits of sleep. We used to have this day. Sunday. It was a day of rest and reflection. But that was before the days of multi-tasking, playdates and soccer moms.

Religion is a flash topic, and this is not about religion. It is about the human condition.

Let’s make our day Thursday. I’m always a little tired by Thursday, so that would be good. Maybe business can’t start until after two p.m. Families must eat breakfast together and then have quiet time for an hour. Maybe take a walk, and think about the great things we have in life, not all the things we don’t have. Then they should sit down for lunch, and talk, air thing out, laugh a bit. That sure would be nice. Fat chance.

Maybe all of these global problems we are facing should be seen as a wakeup call. Maybe we need to slow things down. I’m going to think about this tonight after dinner is over and homework is under control. I will sit down in my living room, with Monday Night Football on softly, my next novel on my lap for editing, my PDA on my belt and a family member or two sitting close by. Or, maybe I’ll try just one thing. Probably not. I’ve got too many things to do, can’t just do one thing at a time. Won’t work anymore. Unless it was law…I don’t like to break the law. If there was this law that said I had to relax and reflect…Would that be Utopia?

I better go back and read Utopia. I’ll put it next to “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Somewhere in there I might find an answer to this mess, where we are heading in this chaos we call life.

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