Suze and Pogo

October 10, 2008

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That’s a quote from Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo cartoon that I devoured in my youth.  Social commentary.  Humor.  Wisdom.  More.

Now that our financial crisis is deepening, Pogo’s wisdom seems more relevant than before.  So many people are looking for someone to blame, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.  But we really have to start by looking at ourselves.

I thought about that when I read what Suze Orman was telling Oprah:

We have built an entire economy on lies and deceit,” she says. “It’s like building a home or an entire building on a sinkhole. You have a foundation, supposedly. But a little crack, if something goes wrong — a little earthquake, a tremor — and it starts to open, everything starts to fall down and … that is exactly what has happened in the United States of America.”

It’s not just Lehman and Merril Lynch, though, nor was it just Enron and Cendant before them.  The culture of greed and denial, in different ways, runs top to bottom in today’s America.  It’s in friends of mine and co-workers, and yes, sometimes in my own household:

“A lot of you have built your personal financial foundation on deceit and lies. You bought a home that you couldn’t afford … You spent money like it was going out of style and it wasn’t your money to spend, because why? They were borrowing it,” Suze says. “When you borrow money, you leverage yourself. The United States of America leveraged itself so high that when it started to come down, the whole thing now has fallen down.”

We have met the enemy, and he is us.  And we, collectively and individually, are complicit.

The bottom line is yes, it’s time now to buckle down and get practical:

So what can you do to protect yourself? “People, stop living the financial lies that you have been living,” Suze says. “If you don’t have the money to pay for something, can you just not buy it? Can you wait? Can we start looking at keeping our cars for 10 years rather than getting a new one every three?”

O.k., o.k.  I’m already buying the American “parmesan” cheese.  I’m back now to eating the plain wheat bread instead of Pepperidge Farm or Orowheat.  And I’m buying those family-size value-packs of chicken of unknown provenance.  And more belt-tightening is on the way.

Practicality, here we come.

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