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by Doug McIntyre | Los Angeles "It's like money in the bank!" Remember when that was the ultimate expression of security? Of peace of mind? Money in the bank was synonymous with a sure thing. But for the past 20-plus years, the financial wizards convinced us we were idiots if we kept our money in the bank. "You're not even keeping up with inflation!" "You're throwing your money away!" And we believed them. Millions of us became instant market analysts or hired investment gurus to shepherd our nest eggs. Through peaks and valleys, we were told to "stay the course," don't try to "time the market," to "ride it out," and with every downturn there was always an uptick and the bulls kept running and we kept spending. Two German cars in every garage and granite counter tops for everyone! When I was a kid working for the Parks Department (and I use "work" in the loosest possible sense of the word), payday came every other Friday. I made $1.65 an hour and there were no ATM machines. If you missed the bank closing at 3 p.m., you had no scratch for the weekend. I never missed the bank. It was right across the street from the park and I'd tromp through the revolving door still covered in grass clippings. I'd shove my check through the teller's window and deposit my kingly salary, minus a twenty for walking-around dough. At 5 percent, my life savings went from a measly 800 bucks to a paltry $840 - but it was safe and it was predictable. Putting money in the bank was how my father and grandfathers raised kids, paid the mortgage and retired in comfort, if not splendor. But some genius decided they didn't want us to put our money in the bank. The thought of billions and billions just sitting in passbook savings accounts kept them up nights. So a change here and a change there; all of a sudden the banks were only paying 2 percent on savings and we're idiots for doing what our fathers and grandfathers did before us. We gambled away generations of common sense. We went from a nation of producers and savers to a nation of consumers and debtors. We were told there are jobs Americans won't do and jobs America is better off without. We the people don't just have the lowest savings rate of any industrialized nation - we have no savings. Zero. Nada. In fact, we're in debt up to our hair plugs. We're being asked to play a game without understanding the ever-changing rules. At least in Vegas, we know if we hit an 18 we're certified jerks and there are cameras and large hairy men named Vince and Nunzio to keep the game honest. When was the last time Lehman Brothers comped you for a room and a show? This cold smack in our financial face should serve as a wake-up call across the board. The city of Los Angeles has been on a spending binge every bit as much as the most compulsive Studio City home remodeler. The state of California makes Freddie Mac look like Ebenezer Scrooge. And chew on this: The real pain hasn't even arrived. The tightening credit market is guaranteed to hike interest rates, and that's when our consumer economy hits a wall. Gerald Swanson is an outstanding economist at the University of Arizona. In 2004, he published a dire warning, "America the Broke." Like most dire warnings, it was completely ignored. Writing when our budget deficit was only $7.3 trillion, he offered some chilling math. "If interest rates were to hit just 18 percent (they hit 20 percent in 1981), it would take every nickel collected in income taxes just to pay the interest on our existing debt," said Swanson. "There would be no money left for defense, or homeland security, or education, or Social Security." Our debt today is north of $12 trillion. We've ignored the wisdom of our fathers and rewarded politicians who fed us sugar-coated lies rather than bitter truths. As we swallow a large slice of humble pie, we have an opportunity to reconsider our national and personal priorities. Let's preserve capitalism, but reject the materialism that has coarsened our culture. Just maybe Doug Jr. doesn't need a live petting zoo and five clowns at his fifth birthday party. Maybe the L.A. City Council or Board of Supervisors could say no to a union or a developer? Maybe we could ask Barack Obama and John McCain to stop promising the moon and the stars and start leveling with us, adult to adult. CRO
first appeared at L.A. Daily News copyright 2008 Doug McIntyre Doug McIntyre is a former television scriptwriter and is a popular talk radio host for Los Angeles' AM-790 KABC

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