Monday, March 07, 2005

Sixty days of selling

Traveling on I78 to NYC on Friday was a nightmare. Everywhere there were police, along the sides of the road, in unmarked vehicles, on top of bridges. And the traffic jams. A traveler simply could not put their foot to the floorboard and do the customary 85 to 90 MPH and complete the journey in the customary one hour and fifteen minutes. And the reason for all this security? Our President was visiting New Jersey.

As we approached Newark airport, the thickets of police grew larger and suddenly a white helicopter loomed from above. Then, on the other side of the motorway, I witnessed a spectacle. It was the presidential motorcade--motor cycles and police cars awash with flashing red and blue lights, unmarked cars, even an ambulance, and in the middle were two vulgar black limousines decked with the Presidential and American flags which fluttered prettily as the car sped forth. At this point, I feel compelled to explain why I use the word 'vulgar.' You see, I do not care for the official cars used by the US government. It may be patriotic to use something whipped up in Detroit, but let me tell you there is nothing to rival the jolly old Rolls Royce when one wishes to make a statement. The statement is clear, unmitigated, pure. On that point, the Brits are absolutely correct, as I'm sure H.R.H Lizzie would attest. The Presidential limo looks like an armoured sardine can in comparison, and where is the dignity in traveling in a sardine can?

The reason the President was in New Jersey was to attend a town hall meeting. This is an aspect of American life that fascinates me and which I really wish we'd had in Ireland or Britain. It is good for the people to convene and discuss vital matters.

In the President's case, the first day on his sixty day tour--he was speeding to the town hall meeting to sell the people on his plan for restructuring of social security. My understanding is that, as part of his plan, he wants us to be allowed to keep some of the money we would contribute to Social Security and invest it in the stock market. At first instance, that appears an excellent idea. On TV that night, I saw the fat, happy housewife and other cliches telling us that his was an excellent agenda, that we the people should all want to be in charge of our own money, because only we can 'husband' our money. All the people in the room agreed, which immediately did make me suspicious because I thought the idea of a town hall meeting was to listen to the pros and the cons of an issue and then decide. (However, I will not go into the issue of the lack of dissenting, but you get my drift.)

All I will say is this: I am a writer, do not make pots of money, and I am NOT capable of looking after my money in the stock market. How could I be? First, I do not have hours to spend doing the research on which companies are crooked and fudging their accounts and which are playing by the rules. Secondly, I have a life, want to enjoy it while I can, and do not have the inclination to obsess and worry about money. Third, even financial advisers are NOT capable of looking after my money. I have seen my IRA fall to half its value over the last seven years; only since last year is it recovered to a shadow of its former self. And my IRA is managed by so-called professionals! But these so-called professionals--I know regard them in the same light as I regard used car salesmen--have not shared any of my loss because they make money on trading and thus earn fat commissions.

So yes, I suppose in the end I really do want to look after my own money just like that fat, happy housewife cliche at the town hall meeting in New Jersey on Friday. But here is how the administration can help me do it. They can leave the framework of social security alone and work with both sides of the aisle to find ways to cut costs and save it from this much-heralded demise. Believe me, look around a little and you'll find ways to save money. They can let me continue to make my full contributions to the Social Security Fund because I DO NOT want to have a personal account. And they can help by not encouraging the president to be a salesman for the financial industry and have him go about vulgarly hawking the need to create new legislation to enable them to have yet another bite of the cherry. That's exactly how I want to manage my money.

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