Sunday, September 30, 2012

Golden Handcuffs

     I was playing poker at the Aria the other night. At my table was a group of young men. Just out of college, MBA's in hand and ready to conquer whatever life had to offer. They were on summer internships and volunteer programs. I looked and listen to the swagger and confidence in purpose they possessed. They were certain of the path, had faith in their abilities, and expressed a hint of superiority in their conviction.

     Year after year there has been a new crop of these devotees. Under the influence of an illusion. Dedicated to to the myth. The American dream, fame and fortune, a pot of gold. The devotion to the possible, true believers in the upward mobility mantra. Willing to invest most of their life and energy in the pursuit of comfort, luxury and material positions. What a tune this piper plays.

    I took this path once. Spending all day at a full time job and going to school at night. Getting my degree, becoming a professional. Maximizing my potential as a tax paying unit. Then working long hours to become successful and acquire wealth.

     I soon found that I could not stop. Every month there was a car payment. A house payment. Credit cards and daycare with dinners out and the right clothes, a new cell phone. It never stopped and neither could I.  I became a prisoner of my possessions and life style. The Golden Handcuffs.

     It makes me wonder how every generation falls under the same spell. In the 1950 a blue collar worker like a carpenter could support a family with six kids in a very comfortable home and the wife could stay home with the kids. In the Sixties and seventies the same life style required the wife to work. That changed to the point where both the husband and wife worked but they had nothing left to put away for savings. Now, both the husband and wife work, but they have to go into debt to have the same life style.

     I was talking to them about the future and one of them commented that I must be one of the people who are not better off today than I was four years ago. I responded that no one is better off now than they were four years ago. As a citizen taxpayer in America I am ultimately responsible for the national debt. My share has gone up dramatically in the past four years. I look around at all the people I know that have lost all the equity in their homes. This was their future wealth. There investment for the golden years. All that wealth is gone. I believe that we are all interconnected. When millions of people lose billions of dollars it has an effect on everyone.

     A politician will tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear in order to get elected. That is the sad truth. At the same time a person hears what they want to hear. They disregard the rest because they need to believe that everything is okay. It doesn't matter who is in office, we have gone past the tipping point. There is no way to stop the process and it will ultimately crash.

     During this conversation I was reminded of Paul Simon's song American Tune. The truth is that when I think of all the bright young minds that have come and gone, I can't help but wonder what went wrong. All with the will, intelligence and energy to make a difference, nothing ever changes. “But it's all right for we lived so well so long.”

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