As a child in the 1960's, it was always fun to hear the adults talk about the Great Depression in hushed tones and watch them squirrel money away, just in case. The boom years of that decade made their behavior seem quaint. Even the short-lived recessions of the 1970's and '80's weren't enough to change that perspective.
Americans saved less and less and bought more and more on credit. Whatever lessons were learned by our parents were apparently hopelessly lost on us. We marched in the streets for equal rights and, somehow, worked that into a grand sense of entitlement.
Then, September of 2008 came along and took a very sharp pin to that financial bubble. The Great Recession had already officially begun nine months earlier and the roots of it were, at least, a few years old. But its real origins probably dated back to when McMansions became acceptable in small lots in the late '70's, and people paid more for tire rims than they put into their child's orthodontics. Ridiculousness was in vogue.
The eventual financial folderol that went on with people buying big houses without a job and poor credit, and then the loans being bundled and sold over and over again, passing through a lot of formerly staid financial houses, ended up costing a lot of people their jobs, their homes and their 401k's. Unlike the previous recessions, everyone was affected, some more than others, and there were a lot of people who were financially hammered who had done everything by the book.
Seniors, who had saved up for retirement and invested in what looked like reasonable securities, watched everything evaporate. Parents planning for college, who had put money away in state-run funds, watched some of those funds turn up empty.
So, here we are at the exit door to the Great Recession as things start to slowly ease. The big financial houses are still paying themselves ridiculous bonuses and the hearings, lawsuits and criminal trials are all just getting started. But what about the average taxpayer who got a real eyeful of how much they're valued by big business, big government or even their own community?
There are a few good questions we need to ask ourselves, and this time have a lot more discipline about the answers and the necessary actions than we've managed to show in the past. Let's start with a long look at the idea of bailouts and who should qualify. It was easier for a few years there to get a billion dollar interest free loan for companies that had poor credit than it was for a small business in good standing to get a relatively small line of credit. The smaller business would have also owed more in interest.
There have been a lot of cries of 'socialism' about the bailouts, but if there was any aspect it was that the companies were willing to accept them without having to pay their due. On the personal level, we can all stand a good long look at how much we had invested in ourselves every month, whether it was in the form of real dollars or even education to stay current. There was a general lack of honesty when it came to applying for credit cards about how much we could afford. That was possible because of how few of us even made up a household budget that showed exactly how much money comes in the door, and how much goes out and to where.
Now, we are thankfully getting a second chance. There's a possibility that because of all the euro nonsense going on with Greece that this is only a breather. Either way, here's our opportunity to try out some new behaviors that will lessen our personal drama should we lose another job or watch our investments seep away.
Then, the next time we can also make better choices about what we do with the large insolvent corporations that have their hands out, because we won't be as interdependent on the outcome.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.