A Life Worth Living by Nancy Buxton

Posts tagged ‘banks’

Why Are We in This Mess?

I read this account of what our financial problem is. It gave me food for thought.

David Beim, a former banker who is now a professor at the Columbia Business School, has something to say for people who want to pin this whole thing on the banks.

He has a chart illustrating how much debt American citizens owe, how much we all owe — with our mortgages and credit cards — compared with the economy as a whole. For most of American history, that consumer debt level represented less than 50 percent of the total U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product.

And then …

“From 2000 to 2008, it’s almost a hockey stick. It just goes dramatically upward,” Beim says. “It hits 100 percent of GDP. That is to say, currently, consumers owe $13 trillion when GDP is $13 trillion. That is a ton.”

This has happened before. The chart shows two peaks when consumer debt levels equaled the GDP: One occurred in 2007, the other in 1929.

And that scares Beim.

“That chart is the most striking piece of evidence that I have that what is happening to us is something that goes way beyond toxic assets in banks. It’s something that has little to do with the mechanics of mortgage securitization, or ethics on Wall Street, or anything else,” Beim says. “It says: The problem is us. The problem is not the banks, greedy though they may be, overpaid though they may be. The problem is us.”

What do you think? Do you agree?

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