Friends are crumbling with ruined savings and lost pensions. Strangers are in distress. The world is bleeding money. A good friend of mine, a hardworking, responsible widow in her late Sixties, told me yesterday that she’s ruined. All her money retirement money was lost in the slow decline of the financial markets. She spread out her risk, but she still got crushed. She has some savings left, but she cannot afford to live the quiet, easy, life she wanted before she dies.
My friend didn’t want pity or even a soft shoulder to cry on — she just wanted a single answer to this question: “Why did I bother?”
I knew what she meant without her having to say anything more.
Why bother saving?
Why be financially responsible when those around her were not?
Why did she put away her money for her old age instead of spending it as freely as she earned it throughout the long span of her life?
There’s a certain “of the moment” power to her argument: If you live hand-to-mouth, if you pay-as-you-go if you live paycheck-to-paycheck, you will never suffer the sort of devastation she is currently experiencing. You live a life of carefree pleasure. You buy whatever you want exactly when you want it. There is no delayed gratification. Every want and wiggle is filled and scratched and you care not for tomorrow because today might be the end of your life.
“I wish I’d been less responsible. More wild,” she told me as her voice trailed away, “Had some fun instead of worrying about the rainy day that’s pouring on me now…”
I took her point. I felt for her. All that money, all that effort, all that sacrifice was gone and there was no hope for recovery. She bought into the idea of a safe investing formula and ended up poorer for the effort while those above her became richer.
The United States better find a way to repay these loss-hungry, small-time, investors in the American dream, or there will be even harder times ahead for everyone. The nation relies on savings and investment and if an entire generation — born to serve and save – now take to their deathbeds the lonesome lesson that none of it was worth it, then every generation after them will rightly be wary of banks and the stock market and the very government entrusted to provide for their welfare and to honor their genuine, humble, interest to just die in peace.
No democracy can survive if inherent trust in the system becomes a ferocious monster that eats away good hearts and swallows whole every moral covenant.