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It's not my fault that I'm to blame for all this

The Baltimore Sun

It's not my fault.

I know you've been hearing a lot of that lately. From the presidents of banks and the CEOs of investment houses, for starters.

But when the financial cognoscenti aren't blaming them for this economic mess, they are blaming people like me, and I am starting to feel defensive.

I don't begin to understand what has happened to capitalism, but it looks like it is pretty much finished as an economic model, and everybody says it is the fault of people like me.

They say people like me have been bingeing on credit for years, and now everybody is paying the price for my greedy impatience to live the good life, even though I couldn't afford it.

I don't feel like I am living the good life. I feel like I have just been doing what I'm told.

It seems like yesterday that bankers were telling me to take the equity out of my house and use it to pay for my car because it was "cheap money." I swear this is true. I mean, I never would have thought that up myself.

So that's what I did.

They also told me to take money out of my house and use it to improve my house - add a deck, replace the siding, fix up the kitchen - because my house was my biggest investment, and I needed to improve it.

So that's what I did.

They told me to open a 401(k) and invest the maximum, even though it made it tough to pay the bills. "Pay yourself first," they said. And that's what I did, until it hurt.

We drove our cars - the ones the house paid for - for 10 years because we believed them when they told us the cheapest car you will ever drive is the one you are driving now. Then they blamed us for declining auto sales and the dangerous ripple effect that had on the economy.

When we finally broke down and bought new cars, we bought General Motors cars, instead of gas-sipping foreign cars, because they told us that what is good for General Motors is good for the country.

Those General Motors cars aren't very fuel-efficient, so our dependence on foreign oil is my fault, too.

Oh yeah. Then General Motors closed the plant where my husband's two brothers worked, leaving them without jobs. I think that is probably my fault, too. I'm just not sure how.

All these years we have taken family vacations because that kind of thing is really important to me.

Now those family vacations are an example of a lavish lifestyle that has been this country's undoing. It was Bethany, not Tuscany, I tell myself. But I still feel bad about those family vacations.

I never let my kids have jobs growing up, so they were never able to help pay for car insurance or back-to-school clothes or prom dresses. School and sports seemed like work enough.

But our salaries never kept pace with the high cost of raising children, and every month we slipped a little further behind.

I sent my kids to public schools and saved the private school tuition for college. But when the financial aid officers saw my nest egg - which by the time the kids made it to college only covered a fraction of the expense - they denied my daughter any financial aid.

I should have sent her to a community college, because that's all we could really afford. But we were told that a college with a great reputation - and tuition to match - was an irrevocable investment in our child's future that would pay for itself many times over.

So that's what we did.

After 9/11, we were told to demonstrate to the terrorists that the American economy could not be destroyed by suicide planes. We were told to go shopping, and I did what I was told.

I wasn't sure whether President Bush wanted me to shop on Wall Street or Main Street, so I bought a few shares of stock and a new couch.

Now we are being told that there are bargains out there on Wall Street and we should scrape together whatever cash we can find and buy them up.

We are also being told that the future of the economy is so uncertain that we should just concentrate on paying down our debt because that might actually be a better return on our dollar than anything we'd get out of a mutual fund.

I'd like to do what I am told, again, but I don't know whom to listen to.

I don't know about you, but I am not sure how I managed to do so much damage to the world economy.

I admit, I have made impulse purchases. And I have said 'yes' to my children when I should have said 'no.' And I probably should have waited on the new carpeting.

But Iceland is bankrupt, and somehow it is the fault of the American middle class and its addiction to credit.

I'll bet not one member of the American middle class knew Iceland had an economy. I thought it was just a Citibank ATM and duty-free shopping at Reykjavik airport.

It looks like How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be a new reality show because people like me and my middle-class friends are too afraid to shop. Retail is dropping like a safe out of a second-story window, and that's my fault, too, even though no bank or credit card company will lend me the money to spend.

We've been told that "retirement" is likely to become a quaint custom no longer practiced in this country, and it is all my fault.

Me and my lavish middle-class lifestyle. Me and my childish insistence on immediate gratification. Me and my credit cards.

Now we're being told that we will all have to work until we drop dead.

I guess I will just do what I am told.

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