I watched a fascinating program, PBS’s “Nova: Mind Over Money,” that debated the concepts of rational economics and behavioral economics relative to the economic crash of 2008. It was a fascinating discussion about ongoing theoretical research pertaining to how people make choices to spend their money in the financial marketplace, housing, and general spending. I know nothing about economic theory or practice. What I do know about is eating. I saw a correlation between the two ways people in my life eat and the the way people invest their money.
My father was a stellar picture of good eating and healthy lifestyle to the day he died. He chose his food based on what was good for him, splurged rarely on his beloved ice cream, and guided our family toward healthy eating patterns. While living in his home, my weight was within the scope of normalcy. My nature is to gorge myself on foods I like, and that make me feel good, but that also may cause trouble for me down the road. My adult freedom to eat as I please has caused me to gain to a difficult 250 pounds on my 5’6″ frame. My father was an intelligent man and an equally brilliant businessman. I’d like to believe I am also an intelligent man, but although I take some of my father’s business training, I handle things a bit differently. What is the difference between us? I think the answer to that is the same as the question of economic behavior.
My father, like rational economists theorize about investors, did his research on healthy eating, purchased those products that would serve his intended goals, and ensured that everyone in the household ate in the most efficient and healthiest way possible. His rational behavior and choice making had the desired effect, so he continued this pattern throughout my upbringing. He stayed within his desired goal weight throughout his life. He rode his bicycle sometimes 50 miles through alpine country until he was into his golden years. The challenge was that he was so sure of his patterns that he didn’t listen to his body when it started telling him to slow down and balance out his activities as he grew older. He had developed a health bubble, similar to an economic bubble. At 60, my father had a massive heart attack and a quintuple bypass. This unexpected event was devastating to his psyche as well as his body and his business. He lived with heart trouble for the rest of his life after that, and retired several years later.
When I left home at 16, I felt immense freedom to eat anything I chose. In retrospect, I realize that the restrictions my parents put on my eating made me feel oppressed. I didn’t value the healthy body in which I lived because all I saw was that someone else was telling me what to eat. As I started my own patterns, slowly, I left behind what I had learned and began eating emotionally. Ten pounds here, 30 pounds there, and over a 30 year period, I gained 120 pounds. A minor heart attack and two strokes later, I still hadn’t made good choices for myself. It’s taken my husband’s diagnosis of diabetes for me to recognize the patterns that got me here in the first place at a truly internal level. Immediate gratification and greed have supported my physical growth to unreasonable levels, with all the accompanying medical issues. Mine was a classical case of too much of a good thing. Now, I have to look at the consequences of my choices, and decide how I want to proceed. My father and I both got the same place, only with different understandings of how we got there. I’m sure this sounds familiar to economists.
My father’s eating patterns were akin to the economy of the 1940s through 1970s when there was fairly healthy, stable growth, with ups and downs with the exception of the mid-1970s when the economy grew more dismal. He erroneously believed, however, that what had worked in the past would always work for him. He felt pleasure in being healthy and strong. It was his way of acquisition to extremes. Thus began the 1980s. In that decade, what would be equivalent to my eating lifestyle, took over. Ravenous greed, insatiable desire to satisfy one’s emotional needs with “more” became du rigueur. Not unlike my dietary patterns, it went unabated until the crash of 2008 when the world economy finally cracked under the strain of the weight of emotional or behavorial economic patterns.
The Buddha spoke about a middle path in spirituality that reflects the healthiest system of balance in one’s life. My father and I both had issues finding that balance. Physically, he exercised himself into the hospital with restraint and desire for control. I, on the other hand, ended up in the same place from complacency and aggressive desire for gratification. The economy joined us in the infirmary of world finance because of the same levels of desire for satisfaction.
Until balance is the desirable mode of operation for financiers and their customers, the pendulum of our economy will continue on its death spiral toward complete collapse. In the same way, my gastronomic economy must find balance as well. My measly understanding of economic theory tells me this: Rational economics is the structural thought of our economic choices, and behavioral economics reflects how we actually operate at an emotional level when left to our own devices. With the growing obesity of our nation, both in girth and greed, we are having heart attacks and strokes, but we are not listening as effectively as we should. Left unchecked, economic death, a la 1929, is our next stop on our path of gluttony, no matter what we call the process defining how we got there.
When I was a boy, if my mother caught my brother and me playing with sticks she would call out, “Stop that or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Occasionally, we would wander out of her line of vision and continue playing with the sticks until one of us got wounded. Neither of us lost an eye, but we were, as my brilliant mother foresaw, injured nonetheless. That is what is happening in our economy right now in America and across the globe. The constituents have been yelling at our leaders, “Make a deal! Compromise! Keep us strong, or you’re going to put someone’s eye out!” Not unlike my brother and me in the land of yesteryear, they didn’t listen.
The Republicans and the Democrats, the Tea Partiers and the Independents have been so focused on being right that they have forgotten about us, the people they were elected to serve. Our labels have become more important than our economy, our quality of life, and our people. Raging elephants and stubborn donkeys abound when it comes time to talk about what is best for our country. As they fight, though, we all lose out in relation to our financial solvency, global economic strength, and respect among our citizens and around the world.
As we watch the S&P and Dow decline, as we watch our credit rating from Standard and Poor dwindle from a AAA to AA+ rating, as we watch people dependent on Social Security, Medicare, and other vital programs become victims of the national hatchet, all sides keep declaring victory in “the fight.” What are they talking about? The fight should be about what will keep our people healthiest; about what will keep our country strongest. It shouldn’t be who gets the highest score in the win column. What our legislators, and I mean those in every party and faction, need to experience right now is shame. They should be embarrassed that our country has lost so much from their arrogance. They should be red-faced that as they stand before the cameras blaming the “other side” for the problems, they have forgotten their abominable role in this process. Rather they should humbly go before the American people, one by one, and say, “I’m so sorry I haven’t accomplished the work of the people in a dignified and effective manner. I have shown my lack of focus, and I have behaved in a way that makes me cringe.”
Not one person in any part of government is likely to do that, even in the face of a Gallup poll reflecting a miniscule 18% approval rating of the legislature’s work. They, and we who support them, have forgotten that before we are Democrats, before we are Republicans, before we are anything in our country, we must be Americans when it comes to the administration of our country. But, perhaps, in some strange way we are expressing our americanism by being confrontational, angry, and short-sighted. Who else could claim leaving the comforts of jolly old England for a desolate land like North America for a better life? Who else has the shame of slavery, native genocide, contemporary classism, and the polarity of such extreme poverty and unimaginable wealth? We were born of a selfish, angry population. Have we changed so much? Not really.
The year is 2011 and we still have not figured out that we are Americans first after 235 years of existence as a nation. We have proof. Just look at every facet of American life. We must insist on our legislators working together with dignity, honor, and good faith as they go forward from here. We must rally for unity, respect for others’ opinions, and a pattern of listening rather than blustering rhetoric. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? I don’t know.
President Barack Obama was elected by a mandate by the people of the United States of America in November 2008. Clearly, people were ready for the changes Obama assessed the country needed. Now, we’re complaining.
I had a family member once upon a time that, no matter what happened, she would complain. If she were to receive a million dollars, she would complain about the taxes. If she were to wake up one morning thirty pounds lighter, she would complain that she had nothing to wear. We have become a country of that same person.
Change is painful. Change is scary. Change, for America and Americans, is necessary.
When will we get it through our short-sighted, fear-riddled brains that what we’ve been doing for the last several decades is not working and we must fix it. The economy is in the gutter, our health care is suffering because of the insurance companies’ insistence on higher and higher premuims nearly no one can afford, and our culture is becoming more violent and full of crime. What will it take for us to dig in, in the way our forefathers and foremothers did to elevate themselves out of the Great Depression? Where is our work ethic? Where is our warrior spirit?
There is no dirt under the fingernails of those who are doing the complaining because they want everything handed to them without doing the work. Is that who we’ve become? That is not the energy that built our country in the first place.
It’s time for us to understand that nothing in the world is going to change the fact that we have to rework our economy, our health care system, our criminal justice system, our sense of unified culture, and our access to the entire American dream, no matter what labels others give us, if we want the changes we voted for a mere ten months ago.
Already, we’ve seen our place of respect in the world rise to levels we haven’t seen in at least nine years. We’ve seen white collar criminals going to jail for duping the American public. We have been exposed to truths about which we had suspected for many years about our government. These are all good things. These are the events that will transport us farther toward our goal for an open government, a new vision, and unified action.
Oakland Raiders fans have the right idea. No matter what their team is doing, they stand behind the organization. They disagree. They get angry. They hope for better. Ultimately, however, they remain part of the Raider Nation. When a new leader comes aboard, they always have hope for a brighter future. Perhaps, as Americans, we should stand behind our Red, White, and Blue, the same way Raider fans stand behind their Silver and Black.
Take a deep breath, America, hike up your collective skirts, and get ready for the long road ahead of us in correcting the errors of our past. President Barack Obama can, and will, get us there. I know it. The challenge is that he cannot do it alone.
He will require our help. We must raise our voices in support and unity. We must challenge what we think is wrong in a dignified and respectful way. We must never let our drama overshadow our need to change.
Change is not coming. Change is here.
The world economy and me. Isn’t this how we all perceive what is going on with the world economy? Everything from Chinese exports to the value to the Euro to the ludicrous increase in the cigarette tax in California. If you are anything like me, you are asking, “Why is this happening to me?”
The challenge is, of course, that as deeply affected as we all are at an individual level, it would be impossible for those in Washington or at the G20 conference to know each of us by name and consider our individual lives.
Yet, here were are, in the midst of an economic situation similar to that of the one our parents and grandparents talked about during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
What did they do? Because of their work ethic and sense of personal responsibility, although frustrated and sometimes feeling fairly hopeless, they dug in . The kept looking for work, the continued to make sure their families had something to eat, and they supported those in their communities who couldn’t take care of themselves.
Is that what we are doing today? Is that how we are approaching things? No. The truth is, we are thinking, “How can we keep our 2,500 square foot home with all the luxuries to which we have become accustomed? How am I able to buy my children the latest fashions when I can’t afford gas for the car? Why can’t I keep swimming in my heated swimming pool all winter?”
We must accept the accurate assessment of where we are and take action to improve our situation as best we can while still remembering that we are part of a community.
Are we built for that? I’m not really sure any more. I would love to believe we are, but the evidence is dwindling in some ways.
I see the television where wonderful people are collecting clothes, toys and non-perishable food items for those who cannot afford them. They give me hope. Even something as simple as buying someone a meal, encouraging them get out of the house once a month for some entertainment helps.
We are hopefully compelled to remember others in this very difficult time and not look solely at our own situation. I suspect that through community and compassion, we will get through this time together.
And, for those who say that I am being a bleeding heart liberal, I say, you may be one who is receiving a bonus from a company who just got a huge bailout, or have always paid your own tab and not someone else’s bill. To you, I say, your perception about our situation counts, too. You, too, are a member of this society and we all need your participation, as well.
This is not a condemnation of anyone; just a simple reminder from a simple man who is living in the world as it is, hoping to see us be the people I know we can be.