We are on the cusp of a great new age for the American character. However, just like stretching before going on a long run, there are some preliminary exercises that one must do to meet all the physical demands of this new movement. The most important of them all begins with the shoulders. Exhale, relax your mind and slowly arch your shoulders in a smooth, rounded shrugging motion, now repeat this mantra three times: “It is not my fault, nothing is my fault.” Once step one is complete and you have absolved yourself from any residual sense of responsibility, you now can move on to step two. This entails finding something to blame (preferably a large institution). Once that is done, step three is easy: Complain.
I was having a meal with a friend of mine and her little brother a few weeks ago. Her brother is in his senior year of college and I asked him what he planned to do once he graduated. His harrowing response was one that many great accountability-shunners would love to hear. “Well I can’t really get a job because all of the bankers screwed everything up for everybody.” I asked him if he had found an internship to funnel him into a potential full-time position and his response was the same. I asked him if he has even looked for a job and he said “What’s the point?” Take note dear readers, this kid is already a professional…a professional responsibility-shifter. The profligate banking standards of the last few years have decided this poor kid’s future for him. All he has left to do is shrug his shoulders.
I am not saying that the ripple effects of the financial collapse have not made it harder to find employment. They have. The unemployment rate in the country is hovering around 9.1% and positions are certainly not opening up the way they did before the crisis. But at what point does this become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Lo and behold, a quick Google search reveals myriad available entry-level positions. They may not be in the exact sector that he wants, the salary may be lower than desired and benfits may not be full but, believe it or not, the bankers did not destroy all of the jobs.
This trend of responsibility shifting is as disturbing as one could imagine. Take the mortgage crisis for example. Of course there were unscrupulous lenders placing people in homes that they could not afford, but at what point do you start to take on some authority? You do not have to be a CPA to realize that if you make $50,000 dollars a year, a mortgage on a $900,000 home may not be for you. Where does this blind faith in mankind come from? Was no one reasonable enough to think these lenders may have unsavory motives?
The same could be said for elements of the Occupy Wall St. movement. Pushing for reform of the financial services sector is an admirable and necessary undertaking, but the sentiment that you cannot go out and make a living because of it is unfounded. Maybe they should take a job they are overqualified for until the reforms they are pushing for get implemented and a sublime equilibrium is instated.
On Oct 12th, the Salt Lake City Tribune printed a story about investment schemes that elderly people should be wary of. Securitized life settlements were mentioned. But, securitized life settlements are, in most cases, more compatible with institutional investors, and it does not take painstaking research to find that out on the web. Still, with responsibility shrugging in fashion, the life settlement industry is painted as a snake oil salesman, fleecing grandma and grandpa out of their money. When in reality, all they had to do was a little research to see that the “hair tonic” that was being sold was not a great fit for them.
I wondered whether there was something going on in Utah specifically, were elderly people were being preyed upon by the life settlement industry specifically. I found that they were not. Investments are not, and have never been, by their sheer nature “sure things.” It makes it all the more difficult when you are investing in something that is inherently inappropriate for your personal situation. An investment should be treated like any other purchase. It is hard to imagine someone walking into a store in the fall to look for a winter coat and waiting for a sales person to tell you that it fits you before you purchase it. Investments of any kind should researched thoroughly if not by a professional than by oneself. There is a plethora of information out there.
Collectively, some self-responsibility, a healthy dose of cynicism and common sense could do the country some good. We are in difficult times, there is no doubt about that. However, after years have passed and some (surely not enough) reforms have been implemented, we must begin to control our destiny. Blaming bankers for everything will not help us better ourselves or better our country. Perhaps I am being extremely callous or extremely ambitious with my outlook. Either way, I will hedge my bets, whatever anyone thinks of this column, and respond with a resounding “It’s not my fault.”