This is not a simple or straightforward issue that lends itself to easy solutions. The reality is that nearly all of us with retirement plans are relying on Wall Street to provideus with the bulk of our income when we retire. We cannot escape this reality, unless we revert to making individual loans (i.e., micro-lending) to finance our retirements and to help our regular savings grow rather than remain under the proverbial mattress. One can even refer to this as micro-capitalism because it is taking place on a small, local or “micro” level. I actually know someone who, after losing a windfall when the tech bubble burst, took another windfall and bought his daughter and son-in-law a house, for which they are repaying him, rather than going through a bank. It is a “win-win” situation for his family, but few of us can put our hands on somewhere in the range of half a million dollars; and even fewer of us can afford to put that much into one investment.
So, as much as we decry “Wall Street” or “capitalism,” the reality is that we are dependent on it. This is not to say that we cannot change the way that business is being done. This is where my heart is with the (mostly) young people who are taking to the streets.
Something is desperately wrong with a system in which failures such as the outgoing chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard will receive over $14 million dollars in severance pay for being fired after 11 months on the job. Something is also wrong with a system that bails out large banks and investment companies while funds for the long-term unemployed are removed by so-called fiscal conservatives. In a purely capitalist system, the shareholders of the banks would have lost their investments.
The reality is that we do not live in a “pure” economy. It combines what we hope will be the best possible mix of free market capitalism and democratic socialism. We depend on Wall Street, and we also depend on programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Furthermore, some of us also depend on Medicaid.
As I keep saying, “we are all in this together.” Watching the HBO movie “Too Big To Fail” with one of my economist sons was a lesson about just how convoluted and interdependent all of this really is. It did not leave me with sympathy for Wall Street, but it confirmed my own sense of why we need a more inclusive and wide-ranging discussion of how to fix the economy. There was money for Wall Street, but there also needs to be money for those who are just plain “out on the street.
The time has come to “bail out” the millions who are unemployed or underemployed with a viable jobs program. To keep the debacle from happening again, perhaps a significant number of people should be employed in oversight positions looking over the large banks and investment firms so that this does not happen again. Perhaps a portion of every publicly traded company’s profits/expenses could go towards paying for fiscal overseers. If companies have trouble finding this money, I would suggest they start by looking at theirexecutive compensation. I am sure that the stockholders of Hewlett-Packard would agree that part of their former CEO’s $14 million severance package would have been better spent looking out for shareholder interests.
The Rev. Dr. Stan Sears, Minister