U.S. financial fiasco hard to understand

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I doubt there are any among us who can truly explain to the man on the street the full details of the looming financial crisis. And that's somewhat frightening since this economic tsunami will somehow impact all of our lives.

When Americans feel the pain at the gas pump, we at least have some inkling of why these prices have spiraled. We can blame the greedy oil companies, we can blame the ongoing war in the Mideast, we can blame temporary spikes on hurricanes and terrorist attacks on supply lines. And in truth, all of these factors probably play a role.

But the crisis within the financial community is a different monster. Can we lay the entire blame on the sub-prime crisis in the housing market? On the one hand we're told that these sub-prime mistakes represent just a tiny fraction of the entire housing community. So why such turmoil if only a handful of properties are impacted?

And if the sub-prime mess is to blame, is that the fault of greedy lenders or irresponsible home buyers? Or do we finger speculators who bought multiple houses trying to spin them for a profit but who instead got caught with their financial pants down?

And now we're talking about a trillion dollar bailout - now including homeowners themselves - that will ultimately come from taxpayer pockets.

Can we afford to pay for a war and for a trillion dollar bailout? Then why are the political giants talking about a tax cut? Who is eventually going to pay the tab?

And while we're casually worrying about this national fiasco, we've also abandoned the looming shortfall in the Social Security system. And if some politicians have their way, we're going to someday soon be funding a national health care program that is more expensive than all of these other issues combined.

Is greed - raw, unbridled greed - at the center of our problems? Or have we become a government-dependent society? And the question that seems to puzzle me the most - since the top wage earners pay the overwhelming greatest percentage of the total tax load in this country, when will we tax these elite earners beyond their means?

At the absolute core of this problem is the sad reality that most of us are literally clueless about the financial mess we're facing. We watch as the stock markets gyrate up and down but we know little to explain exactly what is happening. We look to experts to help us understand but the experts themselves rarely agree.

What we need is both an explanation that is understandable and a solution that is acceptable. To my limited way of thinking, neither the explanation nor the solution are around the corner.

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