With light, offshore winds and a small swell this week, I've had ample time to sit on my board and look back over the last few years. A lingering cloud ceiling has offered protection from the sun, but it makes it extraordinarily challenging to judge the size of incoming waves. On the water, depth perception is hindered by filtered sunlight. Nonetheless, the lully sets are mostly predictable. Occasionally, however, they offer a surprise and catch almost everyone inside.
I never saw it coming.
As an environmental educator for the last 20 years, my attention was dedicated to ecological issues such as species extinction, atmospheric issues such as climate change, and in the last decade, geological issues such as peak oil. I could readily recognize unsustainability in these realms, but gave little thought to the world of finance. My personal financial strategy was extremely conservative: I paid off my college loans as soon as I could; I contributed the maximum to my retirement account; I kept my savings in bank CDs. I was a good boy. I never lived beyond my means. I was the poster child for prudence.
I saved all my money for 10 years and bought a 38 acre farm with cash. No mortgage. No personal debt. The national debt always concerned me, but whenever I brought it up, friends and family insisted it was not a significant concern.
Remember, I had plenty of other concerns: species extinction, climate change, peak oil, etc. Hindsight has proven how naive this next statement is: I had faith that those running the financial institutions knew what they were doing. Sitting on my board and looking back over the financial tsunami I have to laugh at myself...for a moment. And then I get angry.
This is why I am angry.
I played it safe. I was conservative. I did not put myself at risk, but now I am paying for the recklessness of others. Nearly every financial policy decision coming out of Washington over the last year rewards spenders and punishes savers. Beyond the big bank bailouts, they include government subsidized home buying and car buying. In other words, certain Americans get a coupon from the federal government to go shopping which is (theoretically) paid for by all American taxpayers. More likely it will simply be put on the national credit card and further saddle future generations with crippling debt.
But for me, the greatest injustice is so-called "quantitative easing." Like lawyers, economists use language to exclude ordinary folks from the conversation. Quantitative easing is simply the United States Federal Reserve creating dollars out of thin air. But it does not take a degree in economics to understand supply and demand. When the supply of something increases, the value of each individual unit of that something decreases. In other words, if you are a saver, your savings are worth less. You are paying for the recklessness of others. This choice is not yours. It has been made for you by "financial experts."
Again, this may be naive, but I feel betrayed. No good deed goes unpunished. I consider myself powerless against the unsustainable decision-making of governments and financial institutions. Unlike tea-partiers who choose to fight, I choose withdrawl. I refuse to invest my life energy into a corrupt system. The naive would say I am no longer a contributing member to society. Yes, I'm not contributing to the growing debt, but I should be thanked for that. I can also grow more food for less expense per square meter than nearly anyone on the planet. Who knows, this knowledge may contribute to society one day.
I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Wait on my board and see what emerges through the filtered sunlight. If I'm lucky, a rogue wave will carry me all the way to shore.