Three Card Monte

We’ve all seen the game, Three Card Monte. On a side note, I actually saw some vice cops take down a game that had attracted quite a gathering around it on the Las Vegas Strip. I guess you have to have an actual gaming license in the State of Nevada to actually rip people off….but that’s not my point today.

On the television screen at the gym a few days ago, I watched the mainstream media following the latest on the U.S. financial markets and how they were reacting to the passage of the $700 Billion bailout bill. I was listening to some of my favorite guitar players on my iPod at the time, but just watching the pictures on the screen had me asking, “How in the world get we get into this mess?” Then, immediately, the answer came to me as if in a song, “Greed.” What else?

As a “recovering financial advisor” I have to say all of this madness isn’t all that shocking to me. Don’t get me wrong, as a self-employed person who can’t just take a copy of a paystub down to the local mortgage shop and get a home loan (they still do those, right?) I know it’s going to be a while before I will be able to buy another house….Frankly, that’s okay with me.

It IS the alleged American Dream to own the house you live in…but is all the stuff we see in the mainstream media just financial pornography for the masses?

Somewhere along the way, Americans seem to have shifted from a curious public to public unsaddled with the burden of responsibility, wise judgement, and just knowing what the heck we were getting ourselves into. “It’s okay,” say many. “Someone will come along and bail us out if we really screw this up. Besides, what are the odds this is really going to happen anyway?” [If that last comment intrigues you, here is some recommended reading: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable]

I love this country. I’m also a fan of capitalism – even though it has it’s dark side. Because of the fundamentals (yes, they ALWAYS matter) on which the United States of America was built, we DO have a nearly unlimited ceiling of opportunity for anyone willing to work hard. The problem of it all, though, is when it becomes so difficult to know who you can honestly trust, and who you can’t.

There are a number of financial advisors in this world who truly DO CARE about their clients. I’ve had the priviledge of working around some of them during my tenure in the business. Unfortunately, when you start moving up the food chain toward the top of so many of Wall Street’s operations, there appears to be a real disconnect between what is “right” and what is “right now”. Big finance is driven by deals (a la capitalism), but it’s also driven by greed. When those two are shuffled, dealt, and flipped over on a piece of cardboard on the side of the road by a huckster, all that remains is a house of cards.

There is more than one way to work through this financial crisis we’re all paying for today, and how we got here is another story (read “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game“). I’m personally nervous that Congress has put into play a $700 Billion “bailout” plan for our economy.

Did something have to be done? Yes. Might there be a better way? Yes. Is it time for the United States to have it’s leveraged head handed to it for pushing too close to the financial edge of the world? Maybe.

Let’s just make sure we’re not playing a high stakes game of Three Card Monte.

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