2008: Year of Hope, Year of Fear. Essay 9

Beginning of the Great Distrust
Crosscut archive image.

Henry Paulson.

Beginning of the Great Distrust

The year 2008 may someday be known as the beginning of the Great Distrust. The year we turned away from the counsel of our parents, our financial advisers, and the suits who transformed Wall Street into a trash-filled alley.

We read a fair amount these days about the foolish who spent beyond their means, bought houses and cars they couldn't afford, ran up disastrous credit card debt, and now face the loss of their homes, their cars, and their credit. They share the blame for our current financial mess, along with the eager young MBA's who earned handsome bonuses for so steadily running the economic train off the bridge.

But consider for a moment the foolishness of those who did everything right, or everything the American narrative has pronounced as "right" for the past 75 years:

  • Work hard.
  • Invest in shares of America's business and industry.
  • Stay with your investments for the long haul.

Responsible citizens who did that lost — what? Fifty percent in twelve months? Ninety? Lost it mostly on the advice of professionals trained in the craft of analyzing the health of corporations but never applying the moderately sensible phrase "get out."

Perhaps what we'll encounter in 2009 is not so much the Great Depression as the Great Disenchantment. A cynicism toward the American capitalist system, reinforced by the image of bankers refusing to lend out the billions which the Treasury Department forced on them in order to reinvigorate the usury on which our economy is rigged. They hoarded it instead, or squandered it on corporate perks as though it were theirs by sweat and honest arithmetic.

If once again someday there's some spare money among us, will we be likely to put it on the green felt of Wall Street, again? Or invest in something of tactile, intrinsic value? A cabin on the river? A grove of Western Red Cedar? A Tony Angell sculpture? Farm land? Flute lessons? Something we can see, touch, admire, live in, find joy in using?

Gotta wonder if the system will ever work again, and if it should.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Bob Simmons

Bob Simmons is a longtime KING-TV reporter who has been writing news for print and television for 65 years.