When I think of the financial-services boom, bubble and bust that America has just gone through, I often think about that image. We thought we were flying. Well, we just met the sudden stop at the end. The laws of gravity, it turns out, still apply. You cannot tell tens of thousands of people that they can have the American dream ”” a home, for no money down and nothing to pay for two years ”” without that eventually catching up to you. The Puritan ethic of hard work and saving still matters. I just hate the idea that such an ethic is more alive today in China than in America.
Our financial bubble, like all bubbles, has many complex strands feeding into it ”” called derivatives and credit-default swaps ”” but at heart, it is really very simple. We got away from the basics ”” from the fundamentals of prudent lending and borrowing, where the lender and borrower maintain some kind of personal responsibility for, and personal interest in, whether the person receiving the money can actually pay it back. Instead, we fell into what some people call Y.B.G. and I.B.G. lending: “you’ll be gone and I’ll be gone” before the bill comes due.
Yes, this bubble is about us ”” not all of us, many Americans were way too poor to play. But it is about enough of us to say it is about America.