To tally the list of those who have been blamed for the nation’s problems in the last three years, all ten fingers and ten toes may not be enough. The list includes, but is not limited to: President Obama, Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Alan Greenspan, Henry Paulson, Wall Street, economists, lobbyists, Congressmen, Republicans, Democrats, and probably somewhere in there Sarah Palin gets a finger wag or two as well. Of course, it is much easier and satisfying to finger-point than admit the ugly truth: we all at fault for the nation’s problems.
Whether you are a banker who engages in excessive risk-taking, a former mortgage holder who took out a mortgage you didn’t read and couldn’t afford, a Congressman who refuses to cooperate, or an investor who turned a blind eye to the details of investments when the market was giving us high returns, we have all become part of the new American construct that finds complaining about our problems the best solution for them.
Occupy Wall Street is one illustration. While a fantastic example of our freedom of speech, there is no action. Okay, we hear you. Banks messed up. Now what?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe these protestors or anyone else wants to hear that the avenue to productive, long-term protest is not through Zuccotti Park, but through sacrifice and hard work.
The most effective way to protest is to go to school, get an education and enter precisely those institutions you fight against, to make change from within.
- What will create change will be lawyers that can write regulation with minimal loopholes to circumvent.
- What will create change are bankers that make decisions that explicitly take into account financial stability and not only personal financial gain.
- What will create change is a workforce that is better trained for the industries of the future, not the past.
But unfortunately, all of these prospects for change require a great deal of hard work and will not reap benefits for years. And many of us have become impatient.
Think of the migrant worker who comes to this country with the hope that his hard work will yield opportunities for his children. He has the patience to wait a generation to see any return on his investment, while many of us focusing on who is to blame believe things like home ownership and college education are God-given rights. They are not.
The beauty of this country is that the democratization of opportunity has made these so-called rights possibilities for an enormous group of people. These opportunities are still out there, but one needs to work hard for a very long time to achieve them.
In order to begin fixing this nation, we need to stop placing blame on others. The most damaging element of finger-pointing is that spending so much time and energy figuring out who is to blame forces us to live in the past, when we desperately need to move forward.
By admitting that we all made mistakes, we can fully realize that we are also all part of the solution.
To make a real difference, to be a real protestor, we all need to commit to long-term education and hard work. Only then can true change be initiated.
Sharon L. Poczter is an assistant professor of managerial economics at Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.