Here’s what I’d like a reporter somewhere to write on the financial crisis:
I’m angry, you are angry. We are justified in being angry. As Charlie Munger said at his annual meeting this year, so much “knavery and foolishness” and greed is behind this mess.
Ordinary Americans are right to be angry at how badly they have been treated – no real rise in incomes for years contrasted with a wealthy elite which keeps making more and more money, increased debtedness (in part to blame on manipulation by mortgage brokers and credit card companies) and now we – the ones with the least amount of money and blame – are being asked to clean up the mess?
In a word, “yes.” Americans (and other people) have cleaned up messes not of their making. Some might make the case (and many did in 1941) that World War II and the fight against fascism was not our fight. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But fight we did. And that was after 10 years of the Great Depression and all the deprivations that had been wreaked on the American people.
We cannot now use our anger to tear the whole system down and hurt everyone including ourselves.
That’s the moral challenge we face. As ordinary Americans we now have to take responsibility for this mess. We cannot be motivated by the need to punish those who have hurt us.
We have been hurt. We deserve to be angry. But it would be a terrible mistake on *our* part to be vengeful. If we are vengeful, then we risk bringing down the whole economic system. Yes, vengeance would hurt the bankers. It would probably hurt the home buyers who lied about their incomes. It may hurt the mortgage brokers (though they are hurting pretty badly now) and some hedge funds. But, we’d also hurt our mothers and fathers. We’d hurt our colleagues at work. We may lose our jobs. We may lose our savings. Everything will be impacted.
We now have to be *responsible* for the whole country in the ways that no one has through this whole mess. We have to stand up and say “yes, we are hurt. yes, we are angry. But, yes, we will take responsibility for protecting our entire economy.”
We are a strong people with a proud history. We have been through many challenges before and we have a moral reservoir we can call on now to do the right thing and not act out of vengeance but out of a moral responsibility to take care of and look out for everyone, including ourselves.
We may not have created this mess but we now need to lead the way out.
P.S. I know it’s hard to manage both of these things – anger and responsibility – but this is what we need to ask the American people to do. I have yet to see any writer really give full credence to the anger out there AND make a strong statement about the moral responsibility we need to take to look out for our whole country.