Friday, March 18, 2011

Wall Street: Worshiping at the altar of a false god

The Money Worshiper’s Prayer:

“Our stock broker, who art on Wall Street, hallowed be thy name. Thy market come, thy investment will be done, on earth as it is on The Street. Give us this stock our daily profit. Forgive our losses, as we bankrupt those who trust us. And lead us not into bear markets, but deliver us from the SEC. For thine is the Nasdaq, the Dow and the S&P forever. Amen.”

If you think this is blasphemous, sorry, because the way many people in this country worship money. . .

Think about it. We love money. We can’t get enough of it. We kill ourselves working for it. We dream about it. We salivate over the thought of being a gazillionaire. Millions upon millions of people used to journey to Las Vegas and Atlantic City every year fantasizing about “hitting the jackpot” and coming home richer than the U.S. Treasury. Now you don’t have to travel to Vegas because there’s a riverboat casino on virtually every river in America. If you don’t have instant access to a casino, have no fear the lottery is here. If vice gambling isn’t your thing, no problem. Try day-trading. Via the internet, you can lose more money than the Obama administration and just as fast.

Which brings us full circle back to investing and Wall Street.

As I write this, Wall Street is looking like Pearl Harbor on that fateful day back in December of 1941. Yet, the only panic, wailing and gnashing of teeth that I’m hearing is coming from the Money Worshippers. I mentioned this to the fellow who runs the feed mill where I buy my dog food and fertilizer as I wrote him a check for some dog food. “What do you think about Wall Street?” I asked him.

“Wall Street?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” I replied.

“I don’t think about it at all. I’m not stupid enough to send any of my money up there.”

I thought about that. Here is a man who owns and runs his own business and is making a good living doing so. The business is paid off, as is his home. The kids are educated and he has no debt. He knows all of his regular customers by face, and most by name. He’s happy with his lot in life. That’s wealth in my book. Real wealth.

So long as we allow our economy to go as Wall Street goes, we are going to lose. After all, Wall Street should reflect our economy, not dictate it.

During the latter part of my career years, I got caught up in investing here and investing there and following the market. I was making money, lots of it. I also quit going to church, quit trading at feed mills and other family-owned businesses, and when we ate out, it was always at some chain-name restaurant who also happened to have a listing on Wall Street. My blood pressure and stress levels were in a daily race to see which could reach stroke-level first. I measured my happiness and success by my paycheck and by how well I was doing compared to everyone else in my business. And I was doing pretty damned well.

Except that while I was very successful, I wasn't very happy.

No wonder they call it the rat race. The only people I see winning it are just bigger and faster rats. I was just becoming another big, fat rat. And I didn't like it.

Funny thing about rats is that they will also eat their own. One Fortune 100 company announced significant layoffs. Money was non-existent and they couldn’t afford to keep thousands of employees around, so thousands of employees suddenly found themselves on the street with no jobs and only a measly four-week severance package.

Yet the CEO of that same company was paid $55 million that year--as part of his severance package. And yet the Money Worshipers continued to buy stock as fast as they could in that company.

I can’t print what I think about that.

If you want to invest in America, invest in your hometown and its local businesses. The small businessman built America and ensures that this great nation continues to run today. Invest in your schools and your churches. Invest in your neighborhood parks and playgrounds. Sponsor a Little League baseball or soccer team.

In other words, invest in your immediate quality of life. Because there’s nothing false about that.

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