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Francine Hardaway Headshot

What Have You Really Lost to the Recession?

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I just flew East to visit a Vedic scholar from Vrindavan, India who is teaching a summer session at Rutgers. He's a friend, and I asked him how he found the United States on this visit compared to his previous visits.

"Stressed," he said. "The whole country is stressed. My students are all stressed. Everyone watches the news and is stressed. But why should you all be stressed? America has plenty of land and very few people, and enough resources to grow its own food. What have you really lost?"

What have we lost? On the airplane back from New Jersey to San Francisco I listened to the latest podcast of Bill Moyers' Journal. In it, two very knowledgeable experts, a health journalist and a physician, agree that Obama might not get a health care reform bill passed into law, but that even if he does get a piece of legislation out of all this political wrangling and lobbying, it won't do any good, because the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance industry will have gutted it with their constellations of lobbyists. He will have gone down to inevitable defeat trying to preserve his political future rather than his ethical priorities.

The details of how much is being spent to make sure health care remains a for-profit industry without cost-cutting or patient care incentives are mind-boggling. The Sunlight Foundation is looking into this. No one even knows what's in "Obama's plan," but they are all positioning themselves to make sure nothing is left in it when it passes.

Right now, the bills going through Congress mandate health insurance, but don't regulate what an insurance company can charge for it or what the insurance has to cover. So we will have to buy it, and either it will have a $20,000 deductible or we won't be able to afford the premiums. Is that reform? And how will that control costs? Where's the delivery system reform that's supposed to cover unnecessary and ineffective care?

When Bill Moyers asked these women if they think we should start all over again, both of them gulped. I had the feeling they wanted to say yes, but they were afraid that waiting wouldn't do any good. The special interests have bought and paid for Congress and the President, so starting all over again wouldn't make any difference unless the next president was Jesus Christ himself, prepared to sacrifice his entire life for the people.

That program made me so stressed that I turned it off and turned on my Kindle.

Unfortunately, I am in the middle of David Faber's enlightening book "And then the Roof Caved In," about how Wall Street brought down Main Street by dreaming up financial products so arcane that even the people who sold them didn't understand them.

By the time I got to the part where he explains synthetic CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), which he compares to betting on fantasy football in which you don't own the player or the team but you can still lose money, I was back in the same funk Bill Moyers put me in. CDOs were like betting on thin air, especially in the era of "stated income" mortgages. No wonder I can't get a small business loan.

Putting the book down, I contemplated BabaSND's question (that's who he is on Twitter.) What have we lost?

Well, we may think we've lost our jobs, our health insurance, our retirement plans, or our houses. But we haven't really "lost" those, because they were never really ours. They were predicated on expectations -- expectations of free markets, good government, fairness, honesty, truth, and John Locke's idea that man is inherently good.

None of those expectations turn out to be any more true than AIG's expectations that all the mortgages underlying all the synthetic CDOs would go bad at once.

What have we really lost? We've lost our integrity as a nation. Deep down we know it, and that's why we're stressed.