Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I'm a sap. My wife is a sap. There are any number of other Americans who are saps, but not as many as there are non-saps.

We've reached the end of week 4 of the Brave New World of the Obama presidency, which means right around 1% is over (if he gets re-elected). I'm not getting my power through wind, or the sun, or hydrogen. Our schools have not been transformed into 21st century innovation academies. We haven't pulled out of Iraq, nor have we fixed Afghanistan. Banks have not started lending, and we're not seeing the big industrial companies add workers by the thousands. Have we made 1% of the progress we need to make? Probably not.

What we have done is endure four weeks of ludicrous political wrangling on both sides, the kind of crass manipulation that the mediocre and incompetent always use to cover up the fact that they have no solutions to anything. In the words of Billy Crystal's Fernando, "It is better to look good than to feel good."

Oh, why are we saps? Because we pay off our credit card bill in full each month, we paid off our mortgage early, we save as much as we can, we cook at home, we've always done all those things that have now become "Yuppie craft projects," 30 kicky things you can do to save money. We went out and earned graduate degrees, went to work and did more than what we were asked to do, played the game exactly as it is supposed to be paid.

And what has been the end result? Our retirement funds have been devastated, so much so that we will likely have to work years beyond our original plan. But at what? I have heard the term "overqualified" time and again from so-called employment professionals, which actually means, "We aren't going to pay you what we have decided you think you're worth"; let me tell you, I have no illusions any longer as to what the market thinks I'm worth - bupkes. My wife works at a trivial job, a clerical job, because she fears what would happen if we were without health insurance.

But our money, well, that's being taken and given to bank shareholders and business executives and various folks hanging around the process of doling that money out, to the politically-connected and the lobbyists and the other barnacles dangling off the ship of state, to the junketeers and the buccaneers and the Mouseketeers who are not working on my problems, or my country's problems.

What I could have done five years ago is take my money and "invest" it in a cool car, or a big-screen TV, or a state-of-the-art computer. Heck, my neighbors were all doing that. But, no, I was going to do the smart thing and invest, save my money and prepare for a nice life, later, the whole ant and grasshopper business.

Those neighbors have been able to enjoy their big-screen TVs, their satellite dishes, their cool cars all this time. Not a one of those things has any residual value, in financial terms they're a complete loss.

But so is my portfolio, and I don't have five years of surround sound as compensation. We've done what we were "supposed" to do, denied ourselves things in the now so as to have a better future, and we've missed the now and the future is not looking so good.

The solution: keep shovelling money out the door to those who have already proven untrustworthy. Either beg other countries to continue to finance our national profligacy, giving them incredible leverage over our future decisions, or print currency to inflate our money, rendering our savings even more worthless.

Yes, this post is an emotional rant, but it's my life, and I get to be emotional about it. This isn't some political game being played in far-off Washington, it's the real world for millions of people, and the lip service just isn't getting it done. We are not abstractions who should be spoken about, we are Americans who should be spoken to. I wish our "leaders" would remember that.

1 comment:

JohnDiddler said...

I am truly sorry to hear of your recent financial losses, and I appreciate this clue to understanding your experience and thinking. Your post parallels my own doubts about the "limited choice" 401k model, as well as coupling medical insurance with employment. In any case, you and I will both probably outperform our credit card neighbors in coming years.

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