Lynn Abbott: Greed is the Grinch
Steamboat Springs — Nearly every headline last week brought to mind Dr. Seuss’s evil-eyed Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small: sub-prime mortgage lenders, loan securitizers, corporate CEO’s, auto execs, Governor Bleepovich and now Bernard Madoff, who lived up to his name and made off with billions of dollars from people all over the world. When I read the news, I picture them as mean old grinches, with green, snaky fingers slithering out from under their furry Santa jackets to snatch every dollar from every Who in Whoville. How can they sleep at night?
Greedy grinches are not new. Early texts from every religion caution against usury. The original pyramid scheme served Charles Ponzi well for two decades until he finally admitted “the jig was up” in 1920. The S&L Crisis of the ’80s helped lead to the recession of 1990-91, and Enron’s “growth at any cost” debacle is within recent memory of us all. Why have we not learned?
Clearly, deregulation is part of the picture. We’d like to think that people will do the right thing because it is right. But we know better. Impartial and objective oversight is needed at all levels in order to instill a bit of common sense, the ingredient missing from the cases of greed mentioned above. Common sense would dictate that a lender would not loan money without checking to see whether the borrower has adequate income to repay the loan. Common sense would throw up a red flag when a banker is pressured to buy a securitized bundle of bits and pieces of a thousand mortgages without any documentation on the original loans. Common sense would suggest to a corporate board member that a $3 million dollar annual bonus for a CEO is obscene. These people must learn that greed costs money. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be paying for the greed of this year’s grinches. I am not an economist, so I will leave it to President-elect Barack Obama and his excellent financial team to develop the common-sense programs and regulations we need. However, regulation and oversight will not be enough to let the old Grinch heart grow three sizes on Christmas Day.
The rest of us must do our part.
Let’s teach our children – and remind ourselves – that credit is not money. When our children see us pay for groceries with a credit card, they should also see us actually fork over the cash at the end of the month. When our teens ask for a loan until allowance day, we can suggest that they find a way to earn the money instead. If they convince us that a loan is an absolute necessity, we would do well to charge them interest for every day until allowance day. It is up to us to lay the foundation that will enable them to one day sign a mortgage for that first house, knowing they have committed to reasonable monthly payments they can afford. Today’s youth must become tomorrow’s responsible money managers.
We can encourage our children to be compassionate. I am heartened when I hear of birthday parties where the invited children bring gifts for hungry African children or those whose homes were destroyed by earthquake or hurricane. The Yampa Valley Autism Program’s Skate-a-thon fundraiser was brilliant. Children who skated that day pledged the number of laps they would skate to earn money to help kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Our schools also frequently sponsor drives to encourage students to help others. I am convinced that compassionate children will become adults who solve world problems rather than bleed others dry.
Let’s get back to basics and remind ourselves about what is really important in our lives. Joy and friendship mean more than Bernie Madoff’s yacht. Charity and kindness to others bring more satisfaction than a $3 million bonus. Playing ball or piano duets with our children might just be more valuable than putting in those extra hours at the office every night.
Just think – if we all refuse to let greed direct our lives, that old Grinch’s heart just might grow three sizes right before our eyes.
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