Fireside Chat

Jay Leno’s couch is the modern fireside chat. The president was calm and cool as ever, but seemed more relaxed. The warm reception, the applause and cheers at all the policy points he mentions during this taping and the weekly jaunts he takes outside of the DC Bubble must be like biofeedback for him, for us as well. Step back, look again, what are we aiming for? Then, move on forward. It’s not pretty, it’s not happening as fast as we all want, mistakes are being made, politics creeps in – still, we are moving forward.

One of the most interesting things Obama said last night was that approximately 40% of the growth we saw in the last twenty years was in the financial sector, meaning it was on paper – nothing tangible – and could be swept away in a moment, as we have seen. He followed by saying we need to focus on growth in things that are real and contribute to steady growth. Instead of the goal of being an investment banker, the kid coming out of college could be an engineer. Of course, what this means is that we have to fund these sectors of growth. There wouldn’t be a dearth of teachers if they could survive on what we pay them. Science can thrive if we fund the research and subject it to rigorous intellectual debate rather than political nonsense. His budget proposal reflects this – the focus on the energy, education and healthcare. These are things that are real and provide a structure to build on unlike the financial scaffolding of illusionary gains based on derivatives and credit default swaps.

I keep seeing articles and people talking about the American way and hear concerns about Socialism and fears that all the lazy people will live off the government teat. They fear regulation of the financial market will keep people from making money. It is the American way, they say to work hard, get ahead and get rich. Ok, yeah. It is. Americans work longer than anyone. Our ethos is to work hard and get ahead. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Work for what you get. We are tough in the face of adversity. We are will to sweat to get what we need. We are “we can do it”. I don’t think anyone concerned about the government taking control of our lives and keeping people from getting ahead will dispute any of that. So, here is my question. We can all agree on the American way, but do the mechanisms that got us into the financial mess really meet any of those criteria? The entire idea of making money quickly and easily using someone else’s capital without really taking on any personal risk seems counter to what we want to think of as American. If you want to get rich, work for it. No one will begrudge you that. But that’s not what has been happening. What we are trying to get back around to is the American dream that anyone can get ahead and do well if they work hard enough. We are not moving toward Socialism so much as away from Oligarchy.


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