Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 27 December 2011 15:26
Post-Christmas blues come and go, much like one’s constitutional regularity. There’s much to blame for its effects to last much longer than usual, however.
Christmas Eve, my beloved and I settled down for a “walk down memory lane.” With our children visiting the in-laws this time around and conflicting schedules that could not be overcome, we made plans for a quiet celebration alone. Brief meetings with family over the Internet, thanks to the wonders of two-way video conferencing, minimized our sense of isolation.
During previous holidays, our list of usual family related activities included watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on television. This time, as the movie progressed, I couldn’t help but think that the story of the Bailey family in Bedford Falls could have been taken from current events. Which explains the early arrival of the Christmas blues.
If one were to compare the Depression of the late ‘20s to today, for the more than 9 million people out of work, it cannot get much worse than it already is. More than 7.3 million homeowners remain in default on their mortgages. The latest poll in recent days suggests one in two Americans live in poverty. That’s about 146 million people, give or take a few million.
The majority of these people are gainfully employed, yet they are slowly losing ground as their wages have not kept up with the rising cost of living. They are the “working poor,” slipping through the cracks in middle class America.
Many underlying symptoms support these numbers. For starters, faith and trust in American business and financial institutions has eroded significantly since 2007.
Recent news stories highlighting charges against former executives that worked for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reinforce public perceptions that improper and illegal behavior by lending institutions has destroyed the public trust and violators must be held accountable for their actions.
Lack of faith in financial institutions, as indicated in a recent survey by the Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index group, suggests more homeowners who are “underwater” with their mortgages are seriously considering a strategic default: walking away from their mortgages, even though they are current with their mortgage payments, fully employed and have the financial resources to continue.
According to those who keep such data, these numbers indicate a disturbing trend that suggests we are in for a long, protracted recovery, but also suggest reforms are necessary if faith and trust in financial institutions are to improve.
Additionally, Congress has not garnered its share of respect and credibility as partisan politics and political brinksmanship threaten the financial stability of the nation. A survey by Gallup taken in July 2010, indicated a confidence rating of 11 percent, dead last among the institutions listed in the survey. Other institutions that beat its numbers were HMOs, big business, organized labor and banks, coming in between 23 percent and 19 percent, which isn’t good news by any stretch of the imagination.
Even more disturbing are the results of a May 2011 Harris poll, where only 6 percent of respondents indicated confidence in Congress’s performance, the lowest level since Harris began conducting polls 45 years ago. Incidentally, Wall Street came in at only 7 percent, down from 8 percent a year ago.
“So what?” you say. “These numbers don’t mean much because they didn’t ask my opinion. Besides, politics and Wall Street are none of my concern.”
By definition, populism compares “the people” against “the elite” and urges social and political system changes. It is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people’s needs and wishes.”
The year 2011 will be known as the year of many grassroots based uprisings. The “Arab spring” movements, the “occupy” movements, all have this in common. People everywhere desire freedom, but people also demand that their leaders, their government and people engaging in business must be held accountable for their actions when they are deemed to be morally wrong and unjust.
In response to the “So what?” remark: If an ordinary citizen had a home mortgage that was currently underwater and is about to lose his or her home due to unemployment, and also discovered that the actual value of the home was not disclosed before signing the papers, should we, the people, not be concerned that this person was defrauded? Should we not be concerned that publicly traded financial institutions intentionally mislead investors on the financial soundness of the corporation?
As I reflect on the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the premise of the plot is that with every decision, multiple consequences are set in motion, influencing the decisions that others make in response. Whether we like it or not, the biggest decisions we make or do not make have moral consequences that have a dramatic impact on the lives of other people and our community for years to come.
A friend once said, “We are generally aware of the sins of commission, but we often pay little heed to the sins of omission—those things we decided we would not do, but should have.”
As we enter the new year, my desire for my fellow citizens is that when we engage in discourse regarding public policies, whether it is raising taxes, lowering taxes, cutting spending or increasing spending, that we consider the economic impact not only on ourselves but also the economic and social impact on others.
Our constitutional form of governance as a republic suggests we are governed by the people and for the people. Let’s see to it that its purpose remains by the people and for (all) the people.