Published November 02 2008
By: Eric Chandler , Duluth News Tribune
I attended the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce 138th Annual Meeting and Dinner celebration two weeks ago. After a fulfilling meal, Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke about the economic meltdown and stressed the importance of “living within our means.” It was a cliche, but it got me thinking about those one-liners my frugal parents taught me.
One was “save your money for a rainy day.” I did that. I’m in my 40s. I drive the second car I’ve ever owned. I brown bag my lunch. My wife and I brew our own coffee. We don’t eat out often because we’ve determined that eating out once costs the same as 10 meals at home. (Plus, my wife is a great cook.) Fighter pilots are supposed to have expensive watches, but mine cost 35 bucks. I didn’t own a TV until I was 30.
Well, it’s raining. Major financial institutions get a$700 billion umbrella. I just get wet.
Many smart people say we must bail out Wall Street, and they might counter me with another cliche, saying I’m being “penny wise but pound foolish.” They say the bailout is big, but the market slide will be bigger if we don’t act. I’m smart, too, and I act differently. I spent decades building my kids’ college fund and my retirement fund so I wouldn’t need the government’s help. Now, Uncle Sam is hitting me up for 12 figures so he can give it to the very people who screwed up my kids’ college fund and my retirement fund.
Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld made $45 million in the year before his company folded. I heard an “expert” say no individuals will have to answer for this mess. If so, CEOs will like this old saw: “If it’s everybody’s responsibility, it’s nobody’s responsibility.” Well, maybe we should start blaming the everybodys. I blame the people who bought houses they couldn’t afford. I blame the banks for giving risky loans. I blame Wall Street for polishing their subprime mortgage loans and thinking they were actually worth something.
My folks also said “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I followed that one, too. I take the quarters I find in my pocket and teach my kids to save in their little piggy banks.
Am I supposed to feel like a sucker because the television tells me to spend? Is it impossible in America to be poor — or even merely thrifty — and have dignity? Is it your duty to desire and buy things, even when you don’t have the money?Consume, lemmings.
Gov. Pawlenty said the average American has $20,000 of credit card debt. Times are tough right now, but that debt was racked up when times were better. My folks said, “a fool and his money are soon parted.” I believe that sums up how we got into this hole. If we heed the advice of old cliches, we’ll climb out.
Failing that, I’ll teach my kids to be like the grasshopper from Aesop’s Fable, who plays away the spring and summer while the ant works hard storing food. In today’s version, though, the grasshopper doesn’t starve to death in the winter; he soaks the ant for $700 billion.
The lesson? How about a new cliche: “Don’t just be stupid. Be stupid on an unprecedented, colossal scale.”
Ants like me are losers.