10.02.2008

A Greater Day of Reckoning Awaits

A lot of people have been asking me about the economic meltdown, but I
feel vastly underqualified; why, naively, I thought the Bear Stearns
collapse six months ago was the bottom. Who knew so many otherwise
top-flight financiers were so leveraged up on CDOs and other sketchy
investments?

I will say that throughout the slide, as with the dot-com run-up in
the late 90's, I had a sinking, "we can't get away with this" feeling.
Back then, it was stock prices soaring on . . . well, nothing, except
for a leak about an announcement about a strategy that Firm X was
thinking about implementing a web-based something or other. This
decade, it's been the notion that our houses are like piggy banks, and
we can keep on pulling out equity, counting on ever-rising real estate
values to bail us out.

By the way, the dirty little secret in all this is that while
foreclosures hurt inner cities the most, it's been once-hot suburban
areas like Vegas and Phoenix where they've been most prevalent. There
you have the confluence of two additional "we can't get away with
this" forces: sprawl in an economy that needs to transition to a
post-petroleum age, and high water usage in a desert setting. Of
course, the upshot of all of this tightening in the credit markets is
that people and places on the fringe will be even more excluded from
the sort of liquidity we upper-middle-class folks depend on to do
upper-middle-class things like buy homes and start businesses.
Redlining and zero access to investment capital, here we come again!

To be sure, there is a greater day of reckoning coming upon us, when
the Judge of our souls calls us to account for all of our deeds. Just
like we should've gotten our financial houses in order and are now
suffering the consequences of an unsustainable system, we ought to
take pause in terms of our spiritual houses, both literal and
metaphoric. Have we let personal sin or structural injustice linger?
What are we getting away with in terms of the sins of our eyes, our
mouths, our hearts? Who are we letting slip through our societal
cracks - the disabled, the exploited, the marginalized - that we have
been expressly instructed to show mercy to? Can we afford to presume
that we can get away with this?

And, on a much smaller yet no less real scale, for our aforementioned
dependence on cheap oil, and our addiction to living in places that
impose a strain on our natural resources, there will be a day of
reckoning, perhaps within our generation. In either case, don't wait
for it to happen to get yourself ready.

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