Who Owns Responsibility In An Ownership Society?

FYI: I wrote the following in a meager attempt to try get something published on The Huffington Post Off The Bus section.  They weren’t interested in publishing it, but I spent too much time to just let it sit around going nowhere.  So here it is…

In the last several weeks, we as a nation have witnessed a meltdown in our financial system. The biggest question I repeatedly hear from political pundits: Who is to blame? Was it greed? Was it Wall Street? Was it the real estate industry? Etc., etc…

We all want “a piece of the action,” because isn’t that the American dream? The American dream, as I understand it, is to strive for a better tomorrow by improving your economic and social position in life. Reaching the “promised land” may include the biggest widescreen LCD TV hung on a nice wall in a ten bedroom house with a nice spacious garage to protect the “dream” car. That is what America is all about, right? Owning more, and outdoing your neighbor. It is clearer every day that America is in trouble and the American dream is being tested.

The promise our political leaders have spewed at us for decades appears to have faltered. The last several weeks have made it abundantly clear that an “ownership society” is flawed. Not to say that owning a home is wrong or dreaming for a bigger, better and faster car is a crime either. The American dream is built on the idea of self-improvement and capitalizing on new opportunities.

As the nation reflects on the further demise of Wall Street, we can point fingers at just about anyone. The “I want it all and I want now” creed has bitten us in the ass. And, as much as certain politicians advocate that we need less government, why did the very same folks meddle with Wall Street when they in fact believe the opposite? Doesn’t that contradict American values? Isn’t there something to be said about accepting consequences, taking responsibility for poor judgment and condoning greed? Why should any of us have to pay for their lack of conscience?

Now, I will be the first to admit, I am not a financial expert. Nor am I a perfect citizen. But I fail to understand how the very same members of our political system – that demand less government – have the gall to bailout/rescue (label how you choose) the organizations that are at the root of this financial collapse and convince me that no one deserves to go to jail. Yet, if we fail to pay the taxes that keep this country afloat, we carry the burden of being paid a visit from “Uncle Sam” aka IRS goons. To make things worse, we are given a judicial slap and sent to live in a jail cell for failure to keep our obligation as “citizen”. Wall Street has a responsibility to support democracy, and not the other way around.

I have no problem paying my taxes, but I do have a problem when my taxes go to agents of stupidity and greed like AIG. We have the nerve to seek the ownership of more, while failing to take responsibility when things go wrong.

History is supposed to remind us of the mistakes we have made in the past. Clearly, we haven’t learned from them. Since the beginning of time, many “Ages” have come and gone – Age of Enlightenment, Age of Reason, The Information Age… When will the Age of Responsibility and Accountability reign?

Shouldn’t we, as a nation, take responsibility for the decisions we make? Shouldn’t we take ownership in each other? Or, is the “me” versus “we” frame of mind so engrained in our psyche that the concept of brethren is lost on us? Shouldn’t each of us take a chunk of responsibility to improve society’s infrastructure like education, and energy? Our government concluded that it was necessary to bail out Wall Street in the name of national security. Isn’t part of national security securing our belief that with the freedom to make choices comes the responsibility to own consequences?

The actions that we take result in consequences – some good and some bad. Either way, we each reap the reward of whatever consequence pays us a visit from the actions we take. I chose to pursue an education at an institution with a high price tag. As a result, I took out loans that I will be paying back for a very long time, but that is the consequence I accepted long ago. I knew that going in. Part of my responsibility is to pay back Sallie Mae, my lending institution. If trouble ever comes my way and I can’t make a payment, I seriously doubt Uncle Sam will bail me out or come to my financial rescue. However, if banks are bailed out for my failure to repay my obligation, does it really matter? Won’t Uncle Sam simply send a fat check to cover losses and liquefy my loan away? Probably, but I need to keep myself accountable and own the responsibility for the privilege of receiving a quality education.

Somewhere and sometime, we must demand responsibility and accountability from ourselves, our business leaders and our political leaders.

When will we begin to demand?

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2 comments on “Who Owns Responsibility In An Ownership Society?
  1. Amazingly, everyone seems to have forgotten the financial advice I received growing up: Live within your means; Plan for the future; Save your money; Never invest more in the stock market than you can afford to lose.

    In some respect everyone who invested in these questionable instruments is to blame; but there are certain practices which the more astute knew were questionable and passed laws to avoid: for example, the so-called “bucket shops” that led to the crash of 1907 are little different from the speculative investments of today; and in fact the current deregulation bill was written in such a way as to specifically exclude prosecution from the “anti-bucket shop” laws of the states of the USA.

    “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” does not only apply to terrorists or people who leave suspicious packages lying around; it applies to our own media, our own elected officials at every level, the corporations with which we do business, and our own business practices.

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

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