I recall being shocked by the sight of homeless people. (I still am.) Stories of homeless children tear at my emotions. I can imagine the anguish of parents unable to provide for their basic needs.
When I read news reports of cuts to food stamps--demanded by wealthy, mostly Republican politicians--I am repulsed. What happened to the country of my birth? Is there no shame or pity? This reminds me of stories by Charles Dickens. I wonder what happened to progress and human evolution. Both seemed to have missed the United States, a country plagued by supposedly Christian people.
I attended a school, whose patron saint was a guy called Martin. I recall a large painting of him cutting his cloak for a poor peasant hanging in the dining hall. This image confronted me each day at mealtime. I have no idea if this affected my social tendencies, but I have sympathy with the less-fortunate. Perhaps, all those politicians that swear a bible should check out the contents. And, if they have, they should not be so hypocritical, insensitive, and greedy.
For all it's worth, I will make a prediction about the economic future of Germany. This has nothing...or very little...to do with the current Euro crisis people keep talking up.
I heard for an informed source that equity funds are being built in the US to take advantage of favorable exchange rates and to buy up companies in Europe. Solid German companies will become targets to lucrative offers, because they are healthy and produce profits. Of course, this will be the death nell for the healthy German economy, because these sharks will strip assets, move company registration to a more-favorable tax address, and squeeze labor unions. Life will be wrung from successful businesses in a a successful country to enrich greedy financiers in a country where they are coddled by politicians.
Does that sound like a communist rant? It is not. It is merely a plea for fairness and equal treatment, which is they way things seemed in the country in which I grew up. That was a time when a strong middle class was the backbone of the nation, as it is a several European countries. Of course, there were greedy people, but they did not rule the roost.
_ I don’t know what is wrong with these people. I don’t know what these people see. I don’t know what these people read. (In reality, I do.)
I’m talking about anyone that deals with or writes about finance. One day, I read about markets advancing/gaining/choose your verb, caused by optimism about the Greek economy. The next day, I read about markets falling/slipping/tumbling/pick your noun. Why? Because of uncertainty about the Greek economy is a prominent topic.
After all this time, I am certain of a few things. First, all this turmoil/headline writing is driven by people trying to make money through trading. Brokers earn money each time something is bought or sold. If people can be convinced to trade an asset, some broker will make a buck. I do not recall much from my MBA program, but I do remember one sentence from a book on the stock market: “the biggest boat at the yacht club belong to stock brokers”. Of course, this is a euphemism and the book was written before politicians changed the rules in the 80s and 90s to unlevel the playing field and make it easier for greed to thrive.
After making a lot of money selling Greek bonds, the same people are now trying to make money from the chaos that they created. It’s a great racket, if you are on the inside or pulling the strings.
This morning, my mind wandered in a strange direction. I thought about simpler times...
A long time ago, there were a small number of rich families and a small number of poor families (the latter quantity much bigger than the former quantity), but there was also a large middle class. People went to work and made things. Salaries were reasonable from bottom to top. Differences in wealth were not so extreme or so visible. Banks were respected and seemed to treat customers fairly. Doors were open from nine to three. They lent money at 5% and paid 3% interest on savings accounts. Some people owned stocks, but the majority paid no attention to those tiny numbers in the newspaper business section or, for that matter, even looked at that section.
And then, at some point, people became greedy and the fabric of US society began to unravel. It was not a sudden change, but rather an oozing process. The Vietnam War may have played a role. Politics surely played a role. But, in my opinion, greed provided the spark and drove the contagion that has laid waste to a simple, fairer way of life. (I don’t want to get into civil rights, immigration, abortion, and all sorts of civil ills. This is about economics.)
Of course, everyone played a role and most displayed some level of greed (I’m guilty as charged). All wanted more things and better things—a new model car each year, a bigger television, latest fashions, etc. All this required “money”, which most did not have in sufficient quantity. So, someone invented credit cards, an ingenious method of collecting fees while indebting the masses. It was not unlike the company store in earlier times (as the song says: I owe my soul to the company store; one day older and deeper in debt). I recall being sent a credit card, although I was a student and had no income. I was being invited to get into debt. My father had a pile of cards and was lured into using them.
To prove the absurdity of change in America, one must consider only Walmart and the Walton family. I read that one year the company earned about $3 billion in profit. That same year, Walmart employees across the country received approximately $3 billion in government payouts, because they earned so little. That means that the US Government shoveled huge amounts of money into the pockets of one family. (I also read that one member is now worth $19 billion!) No other creature on this planet displays greed.
Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled You Can Never Go Home Again. We can never return to simpler times, and we cannot relive the past. Interests have become too entrenched and the US political system is designed to make the playing field uneven and to stack the deck. There’s no way that the Walton family or overpaid managers would even think about taking less and increasing wages of workers. Greed and altruism are not to be found in a single person.
Even though my life has appeared to get better as I got older and I like nice things, I’m happy to have lived in a simpler and better time.
I knew this already, but watching television advertising in the US makes it blatantly obvious. There are plenty of Americans that are willing and able to make money from the problems, suffering, and stupidity of their fellow humans.
Although many might not realize this fact, what I am about to predict falls into the firm-grasp-of-the-obvious category.
Last night I was bored, so I planted myself in front of the television and played with the remote control. No program held my attention, and repeated visits to various news channels revealed more of the same. At some point, I decided to stop abusing the remote and shortening battery life; I fetched a drink, without noticing the channel running advertisements.
Upon my return, I discovered my mistake: Fox News was on, and Sarah Palin was blabbering and grinning her foolish grin. Before I could grab the remote and escape from that parallel universe, I heard something about her facing a decision to run for president of the United States of the 2nd Amendment.
Does anyone believe this will ever happen? This woman is interested only in amassing personal wealth and knows how to play the game. Running for political office costs money; it does not enrich the person (in the short run). Her ego might be large, but her greed is greater.
I now must find a betting organization giving odds on her running...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.