Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Post Institutionalism

We don't need to hear that Americans are losing faith in our institutions--we feel it. Banks, rating agencies, corporations, government regulators, Congress, the White House, every one of them has betrayed our trust. I don't need to explain; it's in the news every single day. It's become a sty in our eyes.

Will our way of life erode as a result? I suspect so. For one, I don't think we'll have the same civil protections as before. Who will have time to follow up on the small stuff when giants are toppling? Will pot holes get filled when city work crews are being reduced? Who will check the legitimacy of butchers' scales, gas station pumps, taxi meters, dry cleaners' solvent disposal, auto and appliance warranties, or smokestack emissions, when most of the field inspectors are fired?

Another matter is the ability of corporations to honor their consumer commitments. My health club is in Chapter Eleven. They've fired all their friendly and conscientious custodians to bring in a cleaning contractor at night. About half the electric powered machines are shut down and the rest no longer have decent TV reception. The gym is only three years old, but it feels post apocalyptic. Another example, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio is in bankruptcy. I listen in my car and like it, but I won't renew this year until I'm sure they won't go silent.

We've all lost money in our investments so I bring up this next matter with trepidation. In my modest portfolio I had some cash in a money market fund at TD Ameritrade. I transferred my portfolio to another broker. Belatedly and accidentally, I noticed that the cash didn't transfer. I checked and found that the money market fund is "illiquid" and therefore all redemptions are frozen. I was never informed of this matter because Ameritrade hoped the liquidity problem would be "temporary", but after I pressed, they admitted that I may have lost my money. My point is that not only have the investment houses failed financially, but they have failed to maintain their former standards of transparency and confidence that once made America the safest harbor in the world.

We may have lost much more than money.

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