James Werrell

Who's responsible for economic meltdown?

Sen. John McCain glibly noted a few months ago that the economy was not his "strong suit." Now he's trying to run away from that quote and prove that he does, in fact, know something about the economy.

Well, you'll get no such flip-flopping from me. If asked a few months ago whether I knew much about the economy, I would have forthrightly stated: "Well, uh, I know how to balance a checkbook. Only I don't have to anymore because I use plastic for everything."

And, by golly, I know essentially as much about the economy now as I did then!

Every economic apocalypse, of course, is an education. I actually do know a bit more about what a collapsing mortgage bubble looks like now than I did even a few days ago.

After reading reams of commentary about the economic meltdown and the consequent bailout brouhaha, I even may know a little more about what precipitated this mess: Everybody got too greedy.

But trying to boil the crisis down to something that might work as a campaign slogan is foolhardy. Because just when you think you have the origins of this cataclysm figured out and are moving toward the solution, some expert interjects a new theory, and everything falls apart.

This mess might be the result of excess greed, but it also might be the result of overzealous deregulation, not enough fealty to conservative free market principles, rapacious bankers, the ignorance of consumers, the ruthlessness of Wall Street, overconfidence in the eternal value of real estate, the freezing of credit or none or all of the above. Except that, for me, knowing so little about the intricacies of the global economy, it's hard to make an informed decision, or even ask the right questions.

While the average layman may be capable of boning up on any number of complicated issues facing the nation, this one seems to require a new master's degree. That leaves us floundering, looking to sages we think we can trust to tell us what to do.

As a first step, however, it is helpful to weed out those we shouldn't trust. First on the list would be the laissez faire, trickle-down economists who say no bailout is needed -- all we have to do is let the market work its magic.

I have a sneaking suspicion these are the guys who got us into all this trouble in the first place.

I also am suspicious of the liberal populists who say we can't spend hundreds of billions bailing out the rich bankers. Instead, we need to be paying off the mortgages of regular people and lifting up the poor.

That doesn't sound like something that would comfort the Chinese, who might be poised to cash in their ownership of the United States.

Needless to say, I am reluctant to put my trust -- any of it -- in George W. Bush or his henchman, Henry "Make Me Dictator" Paulson. When Bush tells us we have a grave national threat and we have to act quickly to combat it, am I wrong to be a little skeptical?

"We will use shock and awe and $700 billion to solve this crisis. The bankers will strew flowers before us; it will be a cakewalk. And this bailout will pay for itself."

Fool me once ...

In the end, I find myself loosely allied with the moderates, whose philosophy appears to be: Well, we have to do something.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy who's distrustful enough to think this bailout is a hoax but scared enough to think that not passing it would invite economic doom.

All I can be genuinely confident of is that I will never have enough money to retire.