For the last couple of months I’ve been fascinated by the financial coverage on CNBC. The commentators struggling to make sense of something that is senseless to them. They declare the market is undervalued, and look for the mythical bottom where the best buying opportunities occur. They hope the promise of great riches will entice more to pick up some great bargains. The Dow numbers jump up and down frantically and the commentators become equally manic depressive. There are both the bulls (optimists) and the bears (pessimists) that give opinions ranging from an economic apocalypse not unlike the Great Depression, to a simple correction that will go away in a couple of months. They begin to speak their occult financial jargon, giving the idea of great confidence of expertise to their opinions. At first I watched with amusement, since I am no fan of the Temple of Greed, the casino Wall Street devolved into. Underneath it all though, I saw something, very human.. a slight desperation.. a deep anxiety on seeing their worldviews being dismantled piece by piece. Global corporate capitalism itself is being tested. They are witnessing something they know is extraordinary, and terrifying. They are witnessing a Great Re-evaluation, and it transcends the golden chambers of international commerce.
What is value?
What we value is what is important to us. In this consumerist society, many ascribe the accumulation of material goods as the highest measure of value. Many will point to family, friends and community.. yet most will acknowledge old cliches like “Money makes the world go round” and the so called “ownership society” that Bush aspired to lead his country to. However, now the values are changing. Environmental concerns are incompatible with tenets of infinite financial growth. The earth has limited resources and cannot handle a world with people with unlimited material ambitions. Many are looking towards a simpler life.. looking for the freedom to act, rather than simply freedom to possess and own. If this trend continues, the current economy, that relies on ever increasing consumption, sees this as a large threat.
A Layman’s View of the Financial Crisis
I cannot claim any expertise on much of the subject, although it has captured my attention recently. The sub prime mortgage bubble, a glut of overpriced houses that people cannot even begin to afford, is causing a great cascade of foreclosures. Banks have been exchanging exotic financial instruments where mortgages being cut up into little pieces and being transacted by it had actual value. The illusion of ever increasing home values made many homeowners get in greater debt using the equity on their houses. When the defaults and foreclosures began, homeowners couldn’t pay, the paper became toxic, and the values crumbled. Then big financial houses holding or backing large amounts of such paper like AIG and Lehman Bros and others couldn’t handle such liabilities and their stock prices plummeted. This has triggered off a cascading set of events that created the current situation. A more detailed explanation can be found HERE (MUST READ).
Bailouts: The Government Response
As these banks stop lending to everyone and one another the govt decides to hand a $700 billion (and counting) bailout to these irresponsible institutions. The system is in critical danger they exclaim, “worst since the Great Depression”. We are scared into giving them carte blanche to have the taxpayers buy into shitty investments. The dogma of the “Free Market” goes out the window, and now we have to save the system from itself. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit, and the owners of the world must keep getting their tribute since their corrupt mechanism is under extreme danger. Slogans like “too big to fail” is spouted off by politicians and the massive bailout is given the green light, a bailout which did not work on defrosting the credit freeze. The mythical free market has lost investor confidence, and many of the clerics of unregulated capitalism now decrying the government for not acting faster, to save them from themselves.
What will happen next in the short term?
Beats me, although I have some suspicions. Right now they are looking to the consumer, who supplies two thirds of the economy for guidance. You see, the stock market investors don’t want the people to do what banks are doing, hoarding money. They want people to spend so they can make greater profit. Now they are looking to the annual orgy of consumption (x-mas) to see where the trends lie. If the consumer doesn’t begin to buy more and more stuff they know they can’t make more money off of them. So I look to CNBC, not to see the nausea producing oscillations of the market (although they can be interesting indicators of the mass psychosis of the market), but the financial news of earnings, sales and layoffs.
A Great Re-evaluation
If the system works, why isn’t it working then? Who does it work for most?
It is very natural to feel overwhelmed with the incomprehensible amounts of money and the momentum of a crumbling global economy to make one feel powerless. The reality is that we all are part of it, in some way or another. We participate in an economy where the lines between needs and wants are blurred into oblivion. “Consume more to save jobs!”, “It’s OK to get into debt”, “Too big to fail!”. Those in power need us to buy into it to justify placing greater obligation on taxpayers, since without the system, they believe we are helpless. Are we?
Each of us can now reassess what we value, and why we value it. We can explore it, discuss it, and debate it. I doubt there will be only one answer, but a myriad of approaches. Some will work better than others. Yet it is better to experiment ourselves rather than rely on those perched on top of economic and political hierarchies to make these decisions for us. Even with the best of intentions, these people are often too isolated and distanced from the consequences of their decisions. We can bemoan the unfairness of it all, yet we are not powerless. I believe that recognizing and reclaiming the power we each have may be the silver lining in these difficult times.