I remember visiting a small city in Siberia during my time in Russia, and making a one-day visit to a former gulag village to inspect a branch location of the bank we were auditing. At one point during the trip, we passed a sign that said (roughly) “for the next 10 miles, roll up your windows, drive as fast as you possibly can and do not stop.” I stared at it, and then checked my watch.
As you can probably imagine, I asked the driver of the car whether I should worry. As he rolled the manual window handle up, he told me – not reassuringly at all – “yes.” We were driving through an irradiated zone, the site of a ‘secret’ nuclear disaster back in the 70s. The clear spring day seemed innocent enough, but the driver’s hunched position over the wheel made me sit back and (stupidly enough) hold my breath.
I think we’re all doing that a little bit these days. We’re being told that everything’s going to be alright, in the immortal words of Bob Marley, but at the same time we need to hold our breath and roll up the windows. It’s not easy to do. The latest ‘fix’ being proposed is to buy toxic assets and hey-gosh-don’t-ya-know they’ll be worth a lot more than what the government bought them for, if only the pesky doubtin’ types get out of the way. The nuclear meltdown isn’t the problem, it’s the lollygaggers who don’t drive on through quick enough.
I’d like to see a history of this era written at some point that blames the right people for the mess we’re in. The people who bought houses on speculation of insanely increasing prices; the people who voted for insane and corrupt congressmen who deregulated industries; and the administration, reelected in 2004, that dithered and did nothing while the financial system collapsed. Who’s to blame? We are. I am. Investors in AIG, Bear Stearns, Citigroup. Voters for … well, almost anyone.
If a small child’s frightened, human instinct is to tell them that everything will be fine. One of the worst lessons a child can ever learn is that this is a lie. Sometimes things will not be fine. Things will go topsy-turvy. The media and government seem to think most of us are children, and that repeating “everything will be fine” will be enough of an answer. It won’t be enough, soon. Everything is not alright – and everything is not fine. At some point, I’d like to hear someone admit that some things are fundamentally broken, and it’s no longer a question of repair – it’s a question of rebuilding. Everything will NOT be fine until someone admits it won’t.