Making the Best of the Economic Mess

01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Love the one you're with

-Stephen Stills

2008 hasn't been a fun year. A recession was coming, but greedy and self-interested leaders brought us to the brink of a depression.

I'm angry about the shape we are in. I want to make sure it never happens again.

It wouldn't bother me to see a bunch of Wall Street CEOs lose their jobs, and take some of the Wall Street-enabling Congressmen with them.

On the other hand, I need to get past the anger. My family has to eat. Your family has to eat. It is time to focus on feeding them.

I have my eye on the clowns on Wall Street, but my feet are on Main Street, trying to make a buck.

We need to learn from the mistakes. Somewhere along the way, everyone lost touch with reality.

People bought houses, cars and clothes with the primary goal of impressing their neighbors. They took trips they couldn't afford and ran up credit card balances larger than their annual incomes.

Will Rogers once said that "America is the first nation to go to the poorhouse in an automobile."

Will didn't know about credit cards, designer clothes and subprime mortgages. Somewhere along the way, things got completely crazy.

It's easy to see how Wall Street and Washington got crazy, too.

The American economy was built around the idea that people would keep spending more than they made. It worked for a long time and then it all collapsed.

No great nation has ever been built on debt. No one has ever gotten rich by spending money foolishly.

We didn't break the trend.

Now is like the hangover after a three day drunk. We have to pay the piper.

I hated the Wall Street bailout from day one.

One of my biggest concerns was that we didn't teach the fat cats a lesson. We propped them up and kept them in business. We gave them over $700 billion with little accountability.

Instead of learning from the experience, Wall Street keeps screwing up. They fly on private jets to fancy conferences and give themselves million dollar bonuses.

Once the dust settles, it will be clear that we've done nothing to stop them from doing the same thing a couple of years from now.

There is only one way to stop them: Reduce the impact of Wall Street in our lives. We need to quit borrowing money from them and depending on them for employment.

Credit cards are only issued by a very few banks. For the most part, the issuer banks are the banks getting bailout money.

I don't know how a Citigroup collector is going to convince an unemployed worker that he has a moral obligation to pay up.

Thus, I am expecting huge credit card defaults in 2009.

There's a good side to the defaults, too. People won't be able to get new cards for a few years. They might learn to live within their means.

I don't have an all purpose credit card. (I have two gasoline cards.) I don't want one, and don't need one. Not having a card has not stopped me from doing what I want to do.

Our parents and grandparents lived without credit cards. We can, too.

Many of our grandparents didn't work for large corporations. They were self-employed farmers or laborers. We are headed back that way. We've been moving toward a nation of self-employed people since corporate employment peaked almost 40 years ago.

2009 will be the year of the accidental entrepreneur.

I have some experience in that. I came out of graduate school at Vanderbilt during the recession of 1982. The only employment I could find was working on the clean-up crew at the Kentucky Horse Park. (Which, now that I think of it, might have been good training for shoveling what Wall Street and Congress have been shoveling at us recently.)

Cleaning up after horses will cause you to look at other possibilities.

I didn't want to start my own business. But I just didn't have another choice.

26 years later, I'm glad it happened. Just like a lot of the accidental entrepreneurs of 2009 will eventually be happy, too.

For every laid-off auto worker, there is a potential car mechanic. And for every laid-off journalist, there is a potential blogger, teacher, or public relations guru.

I didn't want the economic crisis, but now it is time to make the best of it. If we wind up with a nation full of self-employed people who live within their means, it might work out for the best.

And if we can give Wall Street the finger, it's really going to be a bonus.

It will feel like a million bucks. Or a ride on a private jet.

Don McNay is the founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. You can read his award winning, syndicated financial columns at or write to him at McNay is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler and The Unbridled World of Ernie Fletcher. McNay is Treasurer of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.