Over the summer, I took my eight-year-old daughter to see the Meet Kit, American Girl movie.
For the uninitiated, Kit is the Depression-era girl whose dad loses his job, moves away to look for work and the family ends up taking in boarders and keeping chickens to sell eggs to make ends meet.
While there are light-hearted moments, my almost-third-grader was deeply troubled by the main ideas in the movie -- total loss of money and comfortable lifestyle, not having enough to eat and people with more making fund of people with less. I tried to assure her then, as I did when she read the book earlier this year, that our family was OK.
"Mommy & Daddy have saved and worked hard for a long time so we will have food and a house and money for college. Don't worry, sweetie," I said.
In retrospect, I was a fool.
While I've been working part-time since "PunditGirl" joined our family, I started working full-time when I entered college at 17 and pretty much didn't step off that track until I was 42. Then it was back to "part-time" work at 45. That's a long haul. I thought I had a moderate and growing nest-egg, in addition to some money we've been trying to put away for her college fund. I was positive we were on the right track and that we were lucky to be in a stable financial position.
As a former securities lawyer, I should have known that greed in the world just gets bigger and bigger and that, ultimately, that sort of blind ambition doesn"t stop at any cost. I knew that. I"d seen that first-hand. I should have known better than to trust that our government would make sure that market collapses of the past would never happen again.
How could I not have seen that we were in for even bigger problems, when I knew how hard Congress lobbied to make things easy for their big contributors and how regulations and safeguards had been watered down and chipped away at year after year, for the benefit of Barbarians at the Gate, Masters of the Universe and the Den of Thieves?
But I really didn't think we would see a financial crisis like this in my lifetime. After seven years at the Securities and Exchange Commission, I should have known better. I should have acted sooner on my pledge to myself to further diversify the money I had invested. I told myself that when I turned 50, I would take care of that. Guess I shouldn't have literally waited for the day because if I had acted even a few weeks ago, I would feel a little better today.
So who should we be pointing fingers at? Not just Wall Street. All fingers should be pointed at the Bush administration and people like John McCain who tried to convince us -- and were able to manipulate the regulatory system -- that investment and commercial bankers only had all our best interests at heart. That less regulation and more economic freedom would create more wealth for all of us.
And with the ban on short-selling just lifted, it's no wonder that a tumbling stock market can't recover -- short sellers WANT the market to go down. That's their whole raison d'etre. If the SEC doesn't step in and stop the short sellers immediately, I shudder to think where the bottom of this market fall really will be.
But the truly scary thing is this --- if we do recover, how long will it be before we and our representatives forget these lessons yet again and decision-makers turn right back araound and start the same 'trust us, deregulation is good for you' song and dance?
Why did we forget the lessons of the dot.com bubble? Why did we push into the dusty corners of our minds the stories of greed and corruption on Wall Street?
And why do we keep electing the same types of people who will want to do this all over again if, and when, the economy "recovers?"
Even as things bounce up and down in the coming weeks with market valuation, tightening credit and belt-tightening, there's one thing we can do -- cast our votes in a few weeks for people who won't allow this to happen again. All 435 Congressmen and women are up for election and re-election, as is one-third of the Senate. Keep that in mind as you watch your savings blow away and remember that at least some of those who want your vote were responsible for creating the market conditions that made this possible.
Joanne Bamberger is an author and political commentator who blogs more about politics and current social issues at her place, PunditMom. Her political analysis this election season has been featured on CNN, Fox News, ABC.com, XM Radio POTUS '08, and more. As a former SEC Enforcement Attorney and Deputy Director of public Affairs, she's still trying to wrap her head around the current economic crisis.