Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

God, I am so sick and tired of all the news about corporate bonuses and greed and mismanagement. Barack Obama, for all his good intentions, has no real solutions. Seriously, how do you fix a financial system that is beyond monetarily broken and well into being morally bankrupt? How much more money can you keep printing before it starts to look like the bills of a Monopoly game? How much of that money can you possibly snort before you realize you are asphyxiating the developing world? How many more rules and regulations can we possibly weave only to see the entire web blown away by a sneering sneeze from the Bankers of the Universe? How many more classes in ethics and compliance can these bankers be forced to take before we rescue them from a coma?

It makes me wonder.

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people, sharing all the world

Part of me thinks there's no way John Lennon could have really believed this. I mean, really. It makes for a nice pop song and a great awwwww.... moment, but who in their right mind would think about giving up all their possessions? If he were alive today, wouldn't he be living with Yoko in their penthouse apartment in Manhattan? Would he really be a man without any possessions? I am not attacking John. I'm just wondering if he could really have relinquished the hundreds of millions of dollars that he would be worth today were he still alive.

Is there a way we could create a world without any possessions? Or would that be a world of sheer animalistic instincts, of survival of the fittest where the weak get gunned down or hacked to pieces with machetes? Or is that the world we're living in right now?


dannie said...

i dont think it's possible to live in a world without any possessions, or it'll be a hard and long process.

J.T. said...

You're right, but how nice it would be if money didn't exist at all and people shared everything while doing the things they loved.

dannie said...

it would be really nice, just like the old days =P

Raven said...

What you're describing sounds like heaven. I don't see it happening in the world we live in today. It would require everyone to forego greed and selfishness and show concern for their fellow man. When will that happen?

J.T. said...

Oh Raven, you ask that question at exactly the right time. Today I saw Nicholas Cage's new movie Knowing. (SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you are going to see this movie.)

I was going to write a separate post about it, but in light of your question, it probably makes more sense to address the movie here.

The answer to your question, according to Knowing, is when our corrupt world is destroyed by "angels" (the movie isn't quite clear as to what they are) and Earth's children are taken to other life-supporting planets to allow humanity to start with a clean slate.

What started as a brain-puzzle thriller morphed quite unexpectedly into a discourse on the state of humanity and faith and the end of the world. While I didn't think much of the dialog at the start of the movie, I was actually quite saddened and moved by the conclusion. Before humanity is allowed to destroy itself, Some Other Force will judge the Earth as unfit for habitation and render its destruction. While the movie was pure science fiction, its message was real enough: humanity must prove itself worthy of life at the risk of losing it.

Raven said...

I'm planning to see the movie, but I read the spoilers anyway. :) I'd already heard there was something metaphysical/angelic at the end.

But I don't know if taking the children away to start over would be enough. How do we start over when we're still human? As soon as children begin to communicate they start communicating what they want. It's never about what anybody else wants. We're not naturally unselfish.

The only way to make the world a good place is for us all to suddenly start caring more about the welfare of others than about our own. I just don't see it happening.

J.T. said...

If the world started all over again with two kids, they might not necessarily place the same value on money that humanity presently does. Of course, as you imply, it could just be a matter of time before their offspring developed the same nasty habits that plague our world now.

Raven, at this point I would settle for an America free of handguns. I really don't want to read any more stories about mass shootings in churches or malls or schools.

Rob said...

Ah ... greedy bankers. For some reason they always make perfect villains especially for news networks and politicians who look like rabid dogs as they decry immoral and outrageous bonus payments.
Sadly, the current mess has been a long time in the making by everyone: the government (lax regulation and stupid monetary policies), bankers (greed not tempered by any sense of responsibility as banks became casinos), and the average Joe (why save? my house is an ATM) but the all-American tradition of blaming someone else for all of our problems makes bankers the easiest targets.
I personally think the government should get as much blame as it's not like bankers being greedy or getting into trouble is unheard of. Say 1980s bank crisis due to loans to emerging markets, Long Term Capital Management, Salomon Brothers, Bankers Trust, etc.
The truth is that the magnitude of this crisis is due to the use of mortgages to speculate which was enabled by absurdly low interest rates and no regulation to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, no attempts to ban or limit the worst kinds of mortgages (ARMs, negative amortization, no doc, etc.) and regulations that encouraged excessive lending to subprime borrowers.
Hey, all those mortgage companies did contribute nice amounts to politicians and even financed "friends of Mozillo" cheap mortgages for key Senators and Congressmen.

J.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.T. said...

Rob, I have absolutely no problem blaming the bankers. When much has been given to you, I think it's only fair that much should be expected from you. Much responsible behavior. Much ethical behavior. When you're making (at least) seven figures a year, I think you've got some special obligations to society, and not just in how much taxes you pay. These bankers were allegedly the smartest guys in the room, but it turns out they were just gambling addicts who ended up causing a tremendous financial crash. If an alcoholic had been involved in a serious traffic accident that killed one person even, you can bet that alkie would have been ordered to AA meetings. As it is, the Gamblers of the Universe will simply start their own hedge funds and start the whole crazy ball rolling again.

You're right about the politicians being too lax, but I don't hold them as responsible. After all, they're clearly not as smart as the bankers (otherwise, they'd be bankers) and only make $200,000 or so a year. When you see bankers making (at least) five to ten times more than you do, you've got to do what you can to make up that lost income in bribes and kickbacks and oh yes, campaign donations.

And as for the people who thought their houses were ATMS, well, again, a lot of those people were simply children trying to emulate the rich, reckless behavior of the bankers. (The bankers were the ones who signed off on all those home equity loans.) I'm not being patronizing here by arguing that the average American was childlike here. A lot of them were. They were taken by the comforting, reassuring hands of bankers, led into a banking van, and then raped to the point of homelessness. Sorry, I've already seen too many clients in this situation not to have some anger here.

Rob said...

I am not claiming the bankers deserve sympathy, they certainly deserve their share of the blame in this mess.
The sad truth about banks is that once "animal spirits" take over it's all a race to the lowest common denominator. All the truly toxic mortgage products were adopted as one player would waive some common sense rule (doc verification? no problem!), business would flow its way (of course Wall Street did manage to securitize it) and then the rest of banks would inevitably follow.
I also did not expect a truly moral or ethical behavior from bankers. I mean, the same guys who sold you shares of and helped Enron inflate earnings are expected to be ethical individuals?
After Enron investors and regulators should have been a lot more skeptical of any "murky" off balance sheet arrangement. In addition, after the Internet bubble we might as well have viewed any asset going in value above any rational metric with a lot of suspicion.
Sadly, the Fed kept the party going for way too long (low interest rateS) acting like a bartender serving too much booze to a bunch of alcoholic drivers.
There were plenty of warnings about a housing bubble but they were dismissed as idiots who "just did not get it" (any time we hear that type of answer -remember the Internet- we might as well run for the exits).
As per the little guy, sadly, the average level of financial education is appalling. Some were taken advantage of while some were trying to take advantage of the housing bubble and make a quick buck without really understanding what was going on (house prices only go up!). We need some mandatory course on personal finance taught in high schools to at least empower people to make informed decisions in the future.
Ok ... enough of this topic. This is all too depressing.