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It's been almost a year since The Autumn of the Massive Collective Pants-Soiling, which itself was a (lamentably laundry-intensive) phase of The Year of Moral Hazard. I'd hoped these calamities would inspire people to wise up and take greater responsibility. Unfortunately, it seems they've become even wimpier, whinier, and grabbier instead. Unless I'm wrong, we're in heaps of trouble -- and so is our economy.
The invisible hand wants a handout
A dizzying array of government programs and ideas now seem hellbent on taking from some to give to others. Cash for Clunkers recently secured an additional $2 billion from Congress, all so that some of us can basically help others buy new cars. (Not to mention give the economy, and the fortunes of companies like Ford (NYSE: F ) and GM, an artificial, short-term boost.)
Perhaps Cash for Clunkers appeals to people who felt justifiably ripped off by the bailouts of financial companies like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , and AIG (NYSE: AIG ) . Still, I don't know that a little help buying new wheels is such a great consolation prize, especially when we're all on the hook for the expense.
I won't rant too much about the popular notion that everybody has a right to health care, even when our government doesn't have the money it's already been throwing around on other recent programs.
All the same, Americans generally seem to feel way too entitled in the face of a serious fiscal crisis. Life isn't always easy, and we can't and shouldn't expect the government to solve all our problems.
Would you like some cheese with that whine?
The government's attempts to save the day seem only to have left everyone wondering what's in it for them. The final straw for me was a Wall Street Journal article mentioning 80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs, an advocacy group of young people seeking Congressional aid in various forms. They're upset that they've got college degrees and can't find jobs (or at least, the kind of jobs they feel they're entitled to; one young person interviewed in the article appears to be bummed that the best job he could get involved waiting tables).
I'm not sympathetic. The plea on the group's home page: "With tens of thousands of dollars in debt from student loans and credit cards, young people need jobs, yet in times like these the newly graduated are forced to compete with more experienced workers for even the most entry-level positions."
Sorry about the credit cards, kids, but you probably shouldn't have had 'em in the first place. Sorry about the college tuition bubble, but that matched the overall bubble; musical chairs ended, and a lot of people crashed on their behinds.
I'm pretty sure that competing with more experienced workers for positions is par for the course for a kid right out of college with no real work experience; at least, it used to be, before the bubble artificially adjusted everyone's expectations to expect easy money everywhere.
When my generation, Generation X, left college, plenty of young people worked retail, slinging coffee, and doing other jobs that could have been considered "beneath" their degreed status --because there were hardly any jobs. (And we got labeled "slackers!") Many of us lived with our parents after college, or in jam-packed group houses.
Create, don't stagnate
Innovation and positive change will eventually come; it did for my generation, as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) led us into the Internet Age. That's the creative force of capitalism in a free society.
I don't like the idea of 80 million "strong" young people asking Congress for help. There's nothing strong about begging for government intervention, in my book. The more the government meddles, the more that unforeseen consequences could stagnate our economy.
Sure, it wasn't fair that big bankers got bailouts and big bonuses. I thought the bailouts were a sucker punch to the American people. However, we'll get a worse body blow if everybody else goes into parasite mode, too, instead of bucking up and trying to rebuild our economy on firmer ground. If we keep waiting for someone else to make everything better, I fear we'll face a bleak future for investing ... and for our general quality of life.