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You can’t blame all the problems on “going overboard”

Submitted by on Tuesday, 10 March 2009 No Comment

When a well-connected party-goer mentions that she’s wearing a 10-year-old dress to a charity gala, it’s easy to dismiss everything else that comes out of her mouth as “oops, I did it again.”

And in fairness to 33-year-old Sacha Taylor, the topic of the New York Times story for which she was interviewed was about how the recession has hit the wealthy.

Still, a direct quote from her is disturbing, not because she said it but because it’s been said so often that the economic myth is accepted as truth in some circles.

“It’s kind of like we all went overboard,” Taylor said. “And we’re trying to get back to where we should have been.”

Kind of, but not exactly.

Yes, I am acquainted with any number of folks who dove off the spending high board long before George W. Bush encouraged the nation two years ago to “go shopping more.”

I know people who thought getting down to the last handful of car payment coupons was a sign to buy a new vehicle.  I know couples who believed buying boats and putting pricey vacations on plastic were the trappings of the good life they deserved.

To this day it astounds me that someone could glibly sign a contract for an adjustable-rate mortgage without wondering, “um, how far is this going to adjust?” I cannot fathom how anyone thought home values would continue to rise, though even I didn’t grasp the extent of the problem that would result when they inevitably fell because I didn’t realize how dependent the whole system had become on mortgage bonds.

But for everyone who “went overboard,” there are just as many middle-class families who have been in a vice for years, squeezed by stagnant wages, rising prices and soaring health-care costs. Today, they watch their 401ks evaporate and wonder if their jobs will do likewise.

“We all went overboard”? No, not everyone. To imply that the entire meltdown is due to excessive spending is as dangerous as it is inaccurate.

There were systemic reasons the collapse has been this brutal: Income inequities that have gone on for years, rampant health-care inflation and bank deregulation, to name just a few.  Ignoring those realities might help us feel morally superior to those extravagant fools who are getting what they deserve, but we do so at the peril of continuing the freefall.

In addition to her social bona fides, Taylor is an educated woman. She runs a business, holds a master’s degree and has studied at Oxford. Her academic credentials suggest she should be able to come up with something better than the “overboard” theory of economic collapse.

It’s a theory that’s taken hold in many circles, though, and that’s tragic. The road to economic recovery will never be more than a detour along the way to the next disaster if we can’t look past the cursory and examine what really happened.

Let’s give Taylor the benefit of the doubt and assume that “overboard” meant lack of government checks, neglect of duty by financial institutions and a health-care system that emphasizes profit over care.

That’s a definition of “overboard” is at least 90 percent less delusional.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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