Remember that old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times?" We're there already. Despite plenty of valid reasons for concern, let's hope that investors -- and people in general -- will let reason prevail over irrationality. The more delusional our thinking gets, the more potholes appear in our already rocky road to recovery.

I've expressed a lot of disappointment in the behavior of top executives of many banks that took public funds in 2008, including AIG (NYSE: AIG) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS). But those bigwigs don't have a monopoly on greedy self-interest, self-absorption, or a general sense of entitlement.

No thanks, I'll stay on the dole!
For all the public outrage that greets CEOs' illogically high rewards for failure, moral hazard is alive and well across the board. I realize that many, many unemployed workers are trying hard to get new jobs, and don't enjoy accepting ongoing unemployment benefits. But I was still shocked by a Wall Street Journal article, which recently mentioned an individual who reportedly turned down more than 12 job offers because none paid as much as unemployment benefits.

News flash: The job market is lousy. Major companies such as General Motors, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), and Alcoa (NYSE: AA) have cut hundreds of thousands of workers. As my Foolish colleague Morgan Housel recently pointed out, many lost jobs were related to the busted housing bubble. A recent list of major job bleeds even included the United States Postal Service. In the face of that grim outlook, people who turn down multiple job offers in favor of public funds should be held just as accountable as CEOs who use government money to pay themselves bonuses they didn't earn.

The sweet embrace of academia
Meanwhile, for-profit education stocks like Strayer (Nasdaq: STRA), Apollo Group (Nasdaq: APOL), and Corinthian Colleges (Nasdaq: COCO) have suffered from a spate of grads who aren't repaying their student loans. If they can't raise those repayment rates, these companies could lose federal funding.

The knee-jerk compulsion to seek additional education is common during recessions. Education is undoubtedly essential for a strong, competitive American workforce. But stalling for time in college doesn't guarantee anyone a job when they graduate. Before they enroll, potential students need to make sure they're picking a career path with strong employment prospects, lest their tuition prove a lousy investment. Perhaps some people would be better off spending their money launching an entrepreneurial startup, instead of purchasing yet another ancillary degree.

Wake up and smell the coffee
As long as we're down on delusional thinking, it's high time -- again! -- for investors to turn away from the speculative, get-rich-quick mind-set that led us to bubbly disaster. Investor interest in junk bonds recently hit an all-time high, which hardly sounds like a step in the right direction to me.

In this economy, many shoddy companies will get wiped off the landscape. Well-run companies with prudent managers, strong brands, competitive advantages, financial stability, and shareholder-friendly corporate governance policies stand a much greater chance of success. Unfortunately, many Americans who refuse to alter their expectations may learn this distinction the hard way.

Tough times require us to be honest about our lives, and show courage in the face of fear and uncertainty. Only patient, prudent long-term investors can help rebuild a stronger, more stable economy. Hopefully, more people will join their ranks -- before it's too late.

Check back at Fool.com every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on corporate governance.

Apollo Group is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.