Monday, February 23, 2009

another day in paradise...

The other day I read an article in the New Yorker Magazine, that upset me. The article was called "The Ponzi State", and it was about the rise and fall of development in Florida, and specifically about Florida's foreclosure disaster. In the past several years, Florida's economy has been development-based and when the bottom fell out, everyone suffered. People who had mortgaged their homes for home-equity loans were now being foreclosed. People were selling off their family heirlooms in order to feed their families. According to the article, "People who were in their homes, were living the American dream, and then lost it. And they don't have the knowledge to navigate social services, how to get food stamps. People who were employed in the real-estate market -- people who were making a nice living, were ending up in the health and social-services department offices."

But the part of the article that affected me the most was reading about a family in Tampa -- Dan and Ronale Hartzell. They live in a modest apartment in an area of apartment complexes and motels near MacDill Air Force Base. Until a year ago, Dan had a $10.00 an hour job laminating plastic snack food bags at a small plant in Tampa. The economy had collapsed to the point where he was laid off, and he could not find work. He has been looking for work everywhere -- Home Depot, Sam's Club, Publix. According to the article, he has sent out 60 applications, with no luck. All of these companies are saturated with applications from blue-collar workers like Dan. His wife, Ronale, describes him as an excellent worker. She says, "He's a good man, he doesn't drink and he doesn't do drugs."

These folks are already classified as working-poor, they are down on their luck, they have health and dental problems which they cannot afford to have fixed, and they have two children, one in grade five and the other in grade two. As a family, they are facing homelessness. Dan says, "I apply for work, and no one will give me a chance. I'm blue-collar; I work for what I have. That's all anyone can do, and then all of a sudden the economy gets so bad and instead of 30 people looking for work, there's three-thousand. To be honest, I'm just actually starting to lose heart now."

The Hartzells didn't take out a sub-prime mortgage, they hadn't lived beyond their means. They loved each other, and Dan said of Ronale, "I thank God every day that I have her." But he felt somehow that he was to blame for their situation. The article in the New Yorker went on to say, "Dan couldn't avoid the feeling that the world had singled him out for some terrible payback, that it must have been his fault, that the failure was his alone and he had no right to anyone else's help. This was an attitude that no senior figure on Wall Street had adopted."

This is a story that must be playing out all over North America right now. Good, decent, hard-working, honest people -- losing everything. Will the Stimulus Package really help these folks? Or will it be like "trickle down" economics, where the folks at the top get the cream... Why do I have the feeling I have seen this all before? I am not an economist, so I can't begin to understand the machinations of this depression recession, but I remember Gordon Gekko's speech from the 1987 movie "Wall Street", "The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of it's forms - greed for life, for money, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you."

This was not supposed to happen again. So, how did it happen? And why is it always the folks who have nothing left to lose -- the invisible people -- who lose the most.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed"

~Mahatma Gandhi

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