iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Don McNay

Don McNay

Posted: September 5, 2010 10:35 PM

"Flounder: You _______ up -- you trusted us."
-Otter in the movie Animal House.

Let's face it, we screwed up.

In the decade before 2008, the financial world was like a presidential inauguration ball.

On Inauguration day, there is a ball where only the closest insiders and Washington power players get invited.

There are also a lot of parties around town, so just about everybody in Washington feels like they were part of the event.

For a decade, Wall Street was playing funny money games. They were allowed to grant themselves multimillion dollar bonuses, and many Americans also felt like they were invited to the celebration.

Real estate prices were soaring. People were flipping houses and condos. People with lousy credit and no income were living in nice houses. Almost anyone could get a loan for anything.

Stock prices were going up and pension plans were getting fatter. State and local governments had a lot of money to throw around and could cut taxes without anyone really noticing.

We had easy money and reaped many benefits without hard work or sacrifice.

We were living in fantasy land.

The fantasy is over. We woke up to a nightmare.

A nightmare that our nation has not yet dealt with.

People with addictions go through a process called "bottoming out." They reach a point where they realize their actions are hurting themselves or others. They get help and dramatically change their lives.

Because of the Wall Street bailouts, America never got the chance to "bottom out."

Like a drunk who keeps "having a drink or two," America has not really dealt with the problems that got us in the mess.

Like an addict who keeps using, we are setting ourselves up for repeat failure.

I've been reading Maria Bartiromo's new book, The Weekend That Changed Wall Street. A better title might have been "The Weekend that Changed the World."

It was America's chance to bottom out. We didn't. To paraphrase Otter in Animal House, we screwed up. We mortgaged the future to make Wall Street happy today.

I liked Bartiromo's book. One of her insights jumped out at me.

In talking about the fall from grace that some Wall Street insiders felt, she noted "When the wealthy falter, there is a deep shame that the average person cannot grasp. In that world, you are either in or you're out."

That line explains everything. Wall Street was in. They had the right lobbyists and had an alumni association from Goldman Sachs, including Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, doing their bidding in Washington.

Those who came from Wall Street looked out for their own. They made sure their Wall Street cronies were paid back, 100 cents on the dollar.

The rest of us were out. And we have stayed there.

Unemployment remains around 10% and underemployment is even more chronic. Sales of existing homes are at a 15-year low, despite some of the lowest mortgage rates in history. It's almost impossible for a Main Street business to get financing, and state and local government entities are looking at severe cuts in revenues and services.

We've spent trillions in bailout money and all we got was "one day older and deeper in debt."

Although it sounds gloomy, I'm not a gloomy person by nature. With focus, hard work and resilience, people can overcome any obstacle.

Including what Wall Street and Washington did to us.

People can solve problems by taking a hard look at themselves and making changes.

Washington is afraid to take that hard look or make real changes. Our political "leaders" won't do anything that cuts off the campaign contributions and lobbying money that Wall Street provides.

My next column will give a concrete plan for creating wealth without Wall Street. You can see signs of it. Concepts like Move Your Money are catching on. People are starting to pay down debt and look at creating their own businesses.

We weren't really invited to the big Wall Street party. But we sure wound up paying for it.

Now it is time to recover from the hangover.


Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC of Richmond Kentucky is an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor.

You can read more about Don at www.donmcnay.com

McNay founded McNay Settlement Group, a structured settlement and consulting firm, in 1983, and Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC in 2000. You can read more about both at www.mcnay.com

McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Hall of Distinguished Alumni of Eastern Kentucky University.

McNay has written two books. Most recent is Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win The Lottery

McNay is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.

 
 
 

Follow Don McNay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Donmcnay