Ever since Generation Debt came out in 2006 I have been very lucky to be able to occasionally comment on TV and radio on generational and economic issues. I respect what broadcasters do. Broadcast communication requires special skills of confidence, improvisation, and wit -- it's a tough job.
Yet it has to be said that TV is generally a low-information medium. There's nothing like it when there's true breaking news -- election results are coming in or there's a big natural disaster. But if you watch for an hour on a slow news day you might learn that a bus crashed somewhere in Venezuela, and that bacon is bad for you. I haven't owned a television for three years, and I get most of my information from print, sometimes radio. So I'm ambivalent about appearing on TV, and I hardly ever watch my clips, as the pros do. I hate the feeling that that I'm essentially a spokesmodel for the various businesses with which I'm professionally associated.
But last week I found out why TV is really worth it. I was invited to appear on Larry King Live, with Wolf Blitzer as host. I would be part of a panel of four "personal finance experts" giving practical advice about what to do given the recession and Bear Sterns bailout. I'm not an economist nor a certified financial planner. But then again, neither were the other three people on the panel.
I was the youngest guest that night by about 10 years. Somebody in the green room asked me if I was Arianna Huffington's assistant (she was there to talk about politics).
Our brief was simply to talk about stocks vs. real estate. But as readers of my blog and book know, I'm extremely worried about what's going on with the economy. I think the recession may be very grave and destabilizing. Americans have to change their behavior, especially around debt. But average Americans have been spending beyond their means simply to afford middle-class basics like housing, health care, and education. If they can't borrow any more, our quality of life is truly going to suffer.
Meanwhile, rising energy costs and climate change demand that the energy industry, which is the largest single concentration of capital in our economy, must move away from the importation of fossil fuels. This is going to cause huge economic upheaval all by itself.
One important part of the solution is democratic government action. We, the people, must rewrite the rules of the market, to limit environmental degradation, the unregulated speculation that has brought our financial system to the brink of ruin, and the concentration of wealth. The market and the corporation are not people -- they are not born free. They are instruments that serve at the pleasure of the people, by the rules we set, for the benefit of everyone.
We also need to strengthen the social safety net and transform our infrastructure. Historically, these are tasks that only government can accomplish, whether on the local or national levels.
I didn't get to say all of this on TV, of course. But the wonderfully kind Wolf Blitzer did give me an opening to say a piece of it.
After devoting most of the segment to the three other panelists, he tossed me the last question. "Are you optimistic, Anya?"
I took a deep breath. "I think I'm going to optimistic when I vote in November, that there's going to be a different set of policies out there that change what happens to the economy for ordinary people.
BLITZER: You think whoever's elected can make a difference?
KAMENETZ: I think we're at the end of market fundamentalism and that we're in the beginning of people who believe in government solutions to some of these problems.
BLITZER: You don't trust the private sector, the markets?
KAMENETZ: Did you see the news today?
BLITZER: You obviously don't.
KAMENETZ: I think that there's a much larger role that the federal government can take on behalf of ordinary people's incomes.
Thanks, Wolf! I had a great time. I hope you didn't regret it.