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It’s interesting how those who rail against Wall Street greed—or the greed of the faceless, nameless “They”—usually overlook the greed of those on Main Street. President Obama is a case in point.
During his speech earlier this month, at a high school in rural Kansas, Obama inveighed against “the breathtaking greed of a few” who “plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we’re still fighting to recover.”
As Obama tells it, those greedy few sold mortgages “to people who couldn’t afford them, or even sometimes understand them.” Then, “banks and investors” pocketed “huge bonuses made with other people’s money on the line.”
All the while, those of us on Main Street—guileless and good and anything but greedy—relied on “credit cards and home equity loans” to get by. As a result, according to the president, “too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt.”
In short, Obama focuses his ire and wags his scolding finger at “banks and investors,” while giving the rest of us a pass.
To be sure, greed motivated the people who run the banks and mortgage houses and credit card companies—and still does. But didn’t greed also motivate those who bought houses and took on mortgages they “couldn’t afford”? Didn’t greed motivate some of those who used credit cards and home equity lines to live way beyond their means?
Indeed, Americans may deride deficit spending, but Washington is merely imitating us. Americans hold some $900 billion in credit-card debt, and according to the financial-data clearinghouse Bankrate, four out 10 American families spend more than they earn annually.
One contributing factor in this is greed, and it has nothing to do with Wall Street.
Likewise, we may say we oppose big government, but we are fond of particular government programs:
• The new healthcare law may be unpopular today. But in 2009, polls revealed that 75 percent of the country supported universal coverage.
• In 1997, 33 percent of undergraduates borrowed easy money through the federal student loan program. By 2007, that number was 42 percent. With the recent federal takeover of student loans, that percentage will explode.
• According to a federal report unearthed by The Atlantic, “The share of personal income that comes from government-transfer programs” has grown from 5.9 cents of every dollar in 1950 to 17.3 cents in 2009.
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