Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If we keep bailing everyone out, will our kids learn from our mistakes?

The automakers want another $22 billion in taxpayer money to stay afloat, even as they get ready to lay off 50,000 more people and close plants (which will lead to layoffs at other companies). Investment bankers took $700 billion in taxpayer money, yet even Donald Trump says the government needs to force them to lend it out. And they're still giving themselves billions in bonuses. And today, President Obama will unveil his plan for using $50 billion of taxpayer money to help fix the housing crisis. That plan will include helping people who's homes are worth less than they owe on them and those who have subprime and other bad loans refinance.

Is it me, or does it seem like the only people not getting economic help from Washington are people who are doing all the right things?

I know what some of you are thinking so let me give the requisite disclosures: a) I'm not equating the behavior of car executives or Masters of the Universe Wall Streeters with people who need help staying in their homes. Nor am I oblivious to the fact that with the economy in as bad shape as it is that the government pretty much has no choice but to do something -- and that always means spending a lot of taxpayer money.

But none of that allays my central fear, which is that instead of making my generation take a tougher look at our finances and, for those of us with kids, teaching them that managing your money smartly and having ethics when you run a business are important, what we may be doing the opposite by doling out so much cash to people who ostensibly made the biggest mistakes.

Think of it this way: when my 12-year-old watches the news with me, he hears the stories of executives getting fat bonuses and planning opulent retreats. He's not old enough to understand what a credit default swap was and how that guy in the suit contributed to all the "for sale" signs in the neighborhood. Over the summer, my nine-year-old told me "Daddy, I want you to buy a house." I don't know where he got that from, but apparently, the kid understands that Dad's a renter and that there's something he'd like better about me owning.

Is it too great a leap to think he might see some guy on TV who paid $300,000 for a house that's now worth one-third of that, that he could never have afforded anyway, getting the chance to refinance the loan that he never should have gotten? The thought confounds me, so I can't imagine what a kid might make of it.

In any event, we all hope all the money we're spending on 'fixing' the economy is well-spent. But it occurs to me that what really needs to be fixed is our national and personal financial priorities so that next time around, the good guys win.


Mia6998 said...

Amen...ain't no one rewarding me for doing what I was supposed to do and what I agreed to do when I signed the mortgage or agreed to the terms of my credit cards. And the extra $20 or whatever I'm supposed to get in my check come summer...keep it...$20 ain't doing a thing for me or my savings.

Mary said...

Mia 6998