Oh, the pain! And, as many economists and analysts predict, there is more pain to follow. This nation is going through an excruciating period in its history; one that the vast majority of Americans has never before experienced. We got into this mess because of greed, financial corruption and a lack of governmental regulation. To climb out of it may cause us a lot more personal pain but it can be done. But one thing is certain; the self-indulgent, manic consumer-driven era is over.
Let’s face it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we in America have, for decades, been living far beyond what we really have needed or could afford. Many of us knew it but went right on enjoying lifestyles that, realistically, could not be sustained. We have now reached the point of no return; by that I mean that we cannot simply wave our magic wands and just return again to that same old American lifestyle. That lifestyle is over.
In other words, out with the old and in with the new. To put this into perspective, let’s review each of the major factors that I believe have brought us to our economic crisis and how our future must undergo meaningful change.
Housing – when sub-prime loans began hemorrhaging and the housing bubble burst, that house of cards started to cave in. Too many years of greedy practices by both lenders and borrowers caught up with both sides. The era of the McMansion was in full swing. Homeowners, seeing their home values rising dipped into their equity, spent those easy to get dollars on home additions, boats, new cars and such – and then watched helplessly as their home values dropped below their mortgages. We should all now clearly understand that the equity in our homes must not be used for reckless, non-essential purposes.
Builders were on a roll and developed subdivisions further and further from cities and shopping areas. They were on a roll and built bigger and more expensive homes because there was a dearth of buyers anxious to rise to a seemingly higher lifestyle.
But, it didn’t work out and we now have to move on. But the new direction we take must be far different this time. Americans need to curb their voracious appetites and no longer invest in McMansions that they cannot afford. The money saved by purchasing reasonable sized homes should be rechanneled into use of solar panels, better weatherization and other home features that save energy.
President Obama has committed himself and substantial stimulus money to the development of new sources of energy. It behooves every one of us to get behind him in this creative endeavor and be prepared to make use of innovative sources of energy-saving devices in our homes; and to dedicate ourselves to making the conservation of energy and recycling a high priority.
Suburban sprawl must be reversed as people migrate back to towns and villages closer to cities. It is time that we developed modern rail transit systems, including high-speed rail. The bizarre era of sub-prime mortgages is dead and loans should be made to only those who truly qualify.
The auto – America will see a revolution in the auto industry and the types of autos we drive. America’s fanatical love of the automobile has contributed greatly to the eroding of our economic foundation. The Big Three, for far too many years, has produced cars loaded with unnecessary amenities. They largely based their marketing on the family pickup truck and gas guzzling SUVs.
Of course, the auto industry is not entirely to blame as they produced the autos that the public demanded. We wanted constant new styling, more power, more room, and more gadgets – even TV’s in vans to entertain the children. And now it is time that our tastes change. We have nearly 1.5 million autos clogging our highways and Interstates; our daily use of largely imported petroleum is 22 million barrels per day. If we do not get control of our use of petroleum and refined gasoline, America’s future is at great risk.
Therefore, The Big Three will either undergo massive change or it will collapse into bankruptcy. And it may not recover. The majority of Americans will have to adjust to smaller, much more fuel efficient autos, with fewer useless amenities (such as the ridiculous self-parking system that Ford Motor Co. will introduce in 2010 for certain Lincoln models).
General Motors Corporation, with no real vision for a new era in American autos, needs to completely reorganize its thinking. Get rid of the Hummer, that totally ridiculous, hideous toy of those who vicariously imagine themselves as warriors in the War on Terror. Get rid of the Saturn line as it appeals to almost no one. And, yes, also get rid of the flagship Cadillac, a symbol of wealth that no longer fits into our more austere future.
Detroit has to shake off the rust of many years of incompetent management, poor marketing strategies and boldly enter the 21st century. It has to get back to basics, produce rock-solid, fuel-efficient cars, forget the frills and gadgets and clearly understand that the days of cheap, plentiful petroleum are going to disappear before long.
Banking – the days of business as usual are at an end. Definite reform will be coming to the financial sector in the form of far more governmental regulation and oversight. One way or another, the widespread abuses, corruption and manipulations of taxpayer and investors money will be ended. Lavish salaries, bonuses, corporate jets and outlandish executive partying all over the world must give way to prudent, effective management.
Congress must step up and create appropriate legislation and regulations to safeguard the interests of the American people so that this type of crisis is never allowed to happen again. The financial sector; banks, mortgage lenders, investment firms, hedge funds, and the entire Wall St. culture of greed and manipulation must follow strict new regulations that force them to follow honest and ethical practices in conducting their business.
Obama must literally ride herd over Congress to see that appropriate legislation and regulations is created and prevent our elected representatives to continue to cave in to the multi-thousands of lobbyists and special interest groups that have, over the last several decades, destroyed the curbs to unethical, manipulative, unlawful behavior in this financial sector.