Wall Street Bailout

I am still shocked US Congress voted against the proposed bailout plan, not because I am necessarily in favour of it but because it has become entrenched in my way of thinking that the little guy pays for the big guy’s mistakes. Already the fallout is huge with trillions being wiped off the stockmarket and the sense of panic in financial centres almost palpable. Is the rejection of the bailout a triumph of principles over practicalities, a very loud We’ve had enough and we ain’t going to take it any more directed at Corporate America? Or did those who voted NO do so because they feared not doing so would affect their chances of winning the upcoming election?

It is a traumatic time for many people right now but one story has really upset me today. This man committed suicide as a result of pressure over the credit crunch. I am upset by this because I do hate to think of someone taking their own life under any circumstance, but particularly with regard to stress over money. The worst part is that Kirk Stephenson was not apparently in any trouble himself, he just couldn’t cope with what was coming. He leaves behind a young son. How will that boy ever fathom what drove his father to throw himself under a train?  It is a truly depressing thought.

I feel so badly for his family because I have seen evidence of the aftermath of suicide first hand. In 1987 I was in my first year of teaching and when the stockmarket crashed the father of one of my students committed suicide. Overnight he lost half a million dollars. He jumped from the top floor of a thirty storey building. I will never forget the haunted look on his son’s face when he came back to school after a brief period of mourning. One day he broke down in class and I held this fourteen year old 6 foot two boy for over an hour as he wept. ‘We could have moved to a smaller house,’ he said. ‘I would have given up all my extra-curricular stuff. I would have got a job after school to help pay the bills. It would have been alright. You don’t have to have a house on the water to be happy.’

I will never forget my student’s grief. Sad thing is, I know men like this. I have two close friends who are currently worried about their banker husbands, one of whom has said he would rather be dead than poor. I can honestly say that from the poor end of the spectrum it ain’t all that bad to live within your means, but when you are part of an ethos where money is the be-all and end-all, I do think it challenges your belief system and changes who you are.

Is the measure of a man gauged solely by what other’s see as his financial worth? It is a sad indictment of modern society if that’s the truth. I will watch events unfold over the next few days and hope there will be no more lives lost amid this greedy, filthy, inhuman disaster.

22 thoughts on “Wall Street Bailout

  1. I am suprised as well.

    I come from a family where money or rather the appearance of money is very important. My father cannot for the life of him understand why we haven’t sold our house and moved to something bigger. His logic is that we have made money on it, and it was a “starter” home. Then I say that we love our neighbours, and where we live.

    It’s sad to want to kill yourself over something so trivial… alas.


  2. I’ve had the most unique life when it comes to money. I grew up in a pretty cush lifestyle with my wealthy Mother and Step Father. Then, once my Mom’s bullcrap was not worth having lots of “things”, I went to live with my Dad who lived from check to check at the time. From there, it went to years of counting money in my head in the grocery store to marrying Shawn and never having to worry about money again. Then we got into debt, spent a year living check to check, paid everything off and are back to okay again.

    I’ve seen people on both sides…where money is everything and where money means nothing. Some people don’t know how to go from one extreme to the other however…there is no reason for suicide. Even in the darkest financial moments, there is hope for a better future.


  3. Too many people think that money buys happiness! Now a lot of us live beyond our limits and on credit. As a university student, the first day of each semester all the credit companies are there literally giving away their credit cards. You can walk away with at least 3 cards – Visa, Mastercard and an Amex. With all 3 in hand it is so easy to get into debt! I know many friends who got into serious debt like that. It is rough living paycheck to paycheck but you learn the value of money that way!

    I think Congress is trying to teach a lesson! I was kinda surprised too that they voted against it. I’m just glad I don’t live in the states, since they are definitely going not out of the woods…


  4. You know, I am just trying to make sense of the whole thing. Part of the problem is that these “markets” are just creations, ideas about money that don’t really exist. So when they crash, it’s like the house of cards upon which we built an entire economy just disappears.

    These are the issues I want my government to aid. I don’t understand, as some of the smartest people in the State, why they can’t just sit down at the table and hash it out until it’s workable then execute. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to pass a bill.

    If we all agree something must be done, then let’s simply what that “something” is, and get GOING! They passed the patriot Act and took away a ton of our civil rights in the blink of an eye, but now, when we really need help – loggerheads.

    It breaks my heart. This is a good bit about the economic disaster area: http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/


  5. NAT – I’m with you completely. I do think if you love the area you live in, it doesn’t matter about the size of the house, yet I understand too well about pressure from family. It does seem a trivial reason to take one’s life. I don’t want to be too hard on the man because of course, I cannot appreciate the depth of his pain but I have known several people who committed suicide who had led horrible, tormented lives. In their case I didn’t condone their suicide but I did understand it. In this case however, I think ‘ALAS’ sums it up very well.

    HILLY – I agree with you 100%. I have been up and down financially too. I’ve had to sell my family home twice to keep my husband’s business afloat. That was hard but there was always hope. I feel sad this man felt there was no way out.

    TBALL – It’s awful to think Uni students are getting into such debt. It might take them years to clear it. We definitely need to change the way we regard money in society. And yes, I do think you’re in the safest place at the moment!

    PWADJ – Oh, yeah. You are right about the markets being creations.It’s terrifying that things which are bordering on being mere concepts have such power over us. You would think that these people we entrust our economic health with would be able to come up with a solution. It’s disheartening to say the least. That article was fantastic. What a great writer. Another blog added to Google Reader. Where will it all end? It seems that nobody knows.


  6. How sad that this man took his own life because of money. Even sadder is the fact that his son will have grow up knowing that his father chose to live a life without the money he was used to as opposed to sharing his life with his son.


  7. Well, as you know, I have unfortunately experienced loss of loved ones through suicide. …and I have fewer answers than most as to why people choose to transfer their pain to the people they love the most. Which is basically what they do. No answers and no explanations.

    Our current economic state of affairs is extremely scary, but we’ll make it through. It will just be a few years. …and we’re a very impatient nation – which is part of why we’re in the mess we’re in. Its time to hunker down and brace ourselves. Yes, it sucks like nobody’s business, but… what other choice do we have? If one is of relatively sound mind, anyway.


  8. My initial take would be to let the greedy fat-cats stew in their own juice, BUT in their acquisitive avarice, they’ve gambled with the lifestyles of each and every one of us globally.

    So, the right thing to do would be bail them out JUST THIS ONCE, then take measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,

    I did hear that it will cost each American taxpayer about $2000. That means, maybe put the new car off another year or not be so ambitious with your holiday plans … but, with an election coming up, I don’t think anyone’s going to see it that way.


  9. I too am surprised the Paulson bail-out was voted down, but from the little I know about this (I’m about as far from an econ expert as you can get) I think it was the right decision. From what I’ve been able to figure out, Paulson was asking for a blank check, without oversight as to its spending, and without any accountability for those receiving the funds. I think PWADJ hit it right on, the whole house of cards thing is exactly right, the whole system is based on perception, rather than on anything actual, so o.k. whether that makes any sense or not isn’t the issue at the moment, right now we need to do something to tape the house back together and then get on about the business of what might be a better way to have the financial system operate. I too am just incredibly dismayed (though not completely surprised) that folks can’t seem to get around a table and put a plan together. Great piece linked to in PWADJ’s comment also (many thanks). Very important and heartfelt piece Selma – thanks so much for writing this!


  10. I always think it is one of the saddest things when people take their lives (and sometimes the lives of loved ones too) because of financial problems. Because these problems can always be overcome in some way or other. And sometimes a new different life with less money proves better once you try it out.

    It is men who are generally affected by this. Many men feel that they are defined by their role as provider and that if they can no longer provide in the way they always have, then they are worthless.

    It is such a terrible waste of life.


  11. LINDA – it’s awful, isn’t it? I feel for that poor little boy so much. What a terrible thing to happen.

    EPIPHANY – I know you understand this more than most. I am sorry if this post revived any painful memories for you. And I do agree with you – the financial crisis can be dealt with. It will take time but it will be sorted out. You’re right – dealing with it is the only choice we have.

    TRAVELRAT – that’s the problem, isn’t it? How much not bailing them out will affect everyone else. It’s a bit of a no-win situation really. If the second vote they’re planning does come down in favour of the bail out I hope measures are put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

    KAYT – I am hoping it will be worked out. There’s always a way. But your point about accountability is a very important one. That has to be underlined in any deal that is put on the table, or else we’ll see a repeat performance of this years from now.

    RELUCTANT – it is a terrible waste. You are right about men being defined by that role. I know a lot of men who feel it. The pressure placed on them is unbelievable, but it mostly comes from themselves. Such a sad story.


  12. BRITT – I am sorry you went through that. I will admit that I have contemplated it in my darkest moments too, very briefly, but it was in my head. The thought is terrifying when it comes to you. But so is the depression that is plaguing you. However, I would never let money have that power over me. It’s just not worth it.


  13. I really don’t know why I see a lot of this as a good thing. Of course, not the suicide, but then who was that person? How out of touch was he? He had food, he had, at least, a son who loved him. Dead selfish if you ask me, and lacking in moral fibre. What kind of father was he gonna be anyway? What lessons did he have to teach? Sad the son must carry the burden of course.I imagine he and his mum will still be broke, but now they must go it alone.

    I think it was all inevitable. This rampant consumerism is killing the planet- one way or another it had to end. Frankly, I like this way rather than the alternative. Let everybody look clearly at things. It is not okay for a person to make a million dollars a month. Sorry. I don’t care how wonderful you are. It is wrong. It is time wall street gets cut down to its REAL size. Like was said- it is all imaginary anyway. It’s the faith that kept it growing.

    I promise you folks there is serious sunshine on the other side if only the demise is allowed to run its course.


  14. This is part of the boom and bust cycle of the economy and will eventually work itself out. The Congress will pass a plan because they have to. It’s not really a matter of bailing out companies that made bad decisions but one of preventing a collapse in lending, which would lead to a collapse of the economy as a whole. This could get a whole lot worse, especially without government intervention. I think people kill themselves over this stuff because their identity is very wrapped up with their careers and financial life. There are many who, deep down inside, think that their lives are worthless if they have failed financially.

    Greed is a basic human trait that drives the economy. It will never go out of existence and so can only be managed. The feeding frenzy of borrowing and spending that led up this catastrophe will repeat itself again because this activity is the basis of the economy. Hopefully it will be managed a little better in the next cycle. For now we can only hope that this downturn doesn’t metastasize into an outright depression.


  15. MELEAH – I have a feeling the revised plan will be approved today. It’ll be interesting to see if it helps.

    LAURI – I share your view. I don’t know if we’ll ever free ourselves from consumerism though. It has us firmly in its grasp. I just saw an article on CNN about Haiti and all the problems they are having just getting food and water. The director of the UN food program said they needed 50 million US dollars to provide what is needed but so far they had only managed to raise one million. People are dying over there. Yet the US government is probably about to hand out 700 billion just like that to keep the fat cats in Wall Street fat. Am I the only one who sees the injustice in this? What kind of world are we living in? Sometimes I feel like giving up.

    RICHARD – Oh God, that has totally depressed me and I know you know what you’re talking about. I really appreciate your perspective because I know you do this for a living. I just feel now that we’re never going to learn. *sigh*


  16. Selma, Don’t ever worry about reviving any old pain for me, really. I thought this post was very articulate, and conveyed much of what we here in America want to say, but can’t seem to find the words for in our current state of shock.


  17. EPIPHANY – I would hate to make you feel sad, that’s all. I agree about Americans being in a state of shock. It must seem so surreal to you. hopefully, things will work out sooner rather than later. XXX

    JASON – I don’t get it, either. It’s probably a good thing I’m not running the country. Ha ha.


  18. The suicide story you linked to is very sad Selma but unfortunately he wasn’t the only victim. As other commenters have pointed out, there is also his son who now no longer has a father. His financial situation will no doubt be even worse now with his dad choosing to bail out and leave him and his mother to battle on. Then there is the poor train driver who has to live with this tragedy for the rest of his life, knowing he killed a man. I can’t believe that all of this happened over money. Just tragic!


  19. GYPSY – I feel awful to say I didn’t think of the train driver. OMG. that is heartbreaking. He will probably not be able to work again. What a tragic mess.


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