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Op-Ed: What Happened to the American Dream?


Founded on the merits of hard work and intellect, in many instances it's been reduced to one of materialism and greed.

Editor's Note: James Quinn is a senior director of strategic planning for a major university. James has held high level financial positions with a retailer, homebuilder and a university in his 22-year career.

Historian and writer Jame Truslow Adams wrote in his 1931 book, Epic of America:

"The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Mr. Adams penned these words in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in our history. It's timely to reflect on these words, as it appears that the American Dream is slipping further out of reach for most Americans because of the actions of the politicians running our government and the bureaucrats running the Federal Reserve. And if this dream is lost, it will truly mark a turning point for our great Republic.

Those with ability -- who have earned a better life through their hard work, intelligence and integrity -- should be attaining a higher position in the social order. Instead, our government is rewarding those Americans who have taken unwarranted risks, made careless decisions and willingly chosen the course of excessive debt to climb the social ladder.

As the politicians scurry to save capitalism through the use of communism -- defined by Webster's as "a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed" -- more Americans are becoming disheartened.

George Bush, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke decided to seize money from the vast majority of Americans who lived within their means, utilized debt sparingly, and worked hard to get ahead, and give it to the most appalling disappointments in our society. They've shoveled billions to banks that operated their businesses like gambling parlors, and hundreds of millions to people who bought houses with no money down, interest-only mortgages and fraudulent loan applications. They're now rewarding automakers who made the wrong vehicles, paid 30,000 workers per year not to work, and have only been able to "sell" cars by giving them away with 0% financing to any sucker who could sign on the dotted line.

These acts make us more Communist than China.

Now, commercial developers are trying to pony-up to the taxpayer trough. These egotists used immense amounts of short-term debt to overpay for malls, office towers, hotels and apartment complexes. But the rental income on these properties could never cover the interest expense on the debts. They'll only generate income if another developer comes along who's foolish enough to overpay for the same assets.

The market was flying high as the MBA geniuses on Wall Street were able to work their magic by slicing this debt into tranches -- getting it rated as investment-grade paper by criminally-negligent Moody's and S&P, and reselling it to gullible investors throughout the world.

The jig is up. According to the Wall Street Journal, $530 billion of debt will come due in the next 3 years, with $160 billion due in 2009. Of course, in the America of today, yesterday's bad business decisions – such as those that enriched executives like Vornado Realty's (VNO) Steve Roth, who received accolades from the business press -- are cast aside. Just use the "Too Big to Fail" excuse and all is well - the American taxpayer will come to the rescue.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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