Economy & Budget

The slow collapse of America’s economic might

One of the foundations of the American Dream has always been the hope of someday purchasing one’s own home.  In the past, however, it took nearly a lifetime of sacrifice before most people could afford to do so.

The aftermath of the collapse of the 1990s tech bubble was a troubling time in America. After a prolonged, losing battle to win back manufacturing jobs from overseas, America’s corporate and government leaders had been looking for a way out. Technology seemed to fit the bill.

Beginning in the mid-1990’s the U.S. economy literally banked on the Internet, telecommunications, and biotechnology. Virtually any startup company with “. Com” in its name attracted obscene amounts of venture capital and institutional investments. All sound business decisions were thrown out the door and the capital market’s cognitive dissonance made everyone believe that sending the stock market through the stratosphere was indeed “good business.”  The world media was more than happy to make these people and their businesses appear untouchable and mythical. At one point in the late 90s, companies with no revenue, no products, no service capacity – just a few high school kids with an idea – were able to have an initial public offering (IPO) and become overnight multimillionaires. It was the information highway to the riches. Stock options replaced paychecks, and everyone with an idea was starting a new company. In appearance and with the mainstream media public relations machine in over drive, it certainly looked as if Americans had found the solution to its long-term growth challenges.

But in the fall of 2000, the bubble began to leak serious air. In 2001 a plethora of unexpected and devastating events that many had no way of forecasting change the economic dynamics of America and the world for the next several decades.  September 11, Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals increased these slow leaks and eventually turned them into gushing holes of air and the bubble quickly and immediately collapsed.  With that collapse the United States witnessed trillions of dollars of market capitalization being erased from our respective economy and the net worth of its citizens capitalization contributing to the unexpected  fall of 2001. We can with little effort, pinpoint a few events that triggered our fate and the crisis we still face today.  September 11, Enron, and WorldCom are only a few of the dozen scandals that compounded and contributed to this fear.

The federal government reacted by enacting a draconian set of regulations – most notably the Sarbanes-Oxley reforms – designed to reduce the conflicts of interests that had beset corporate leadership. The once promising bubble of unlimited wealth, which was promised by the pursuit of the technology era finally deflated.  Our nation was so shocked by the sudden turned of fortunes that she seriously sputtered, now unsure of itself.

Everyone began to look around for a financial safe haven. No one truly understood what any of those technology firms produced any way, and the equity markets looked like a perilous place to speculate about the future. People had come back down to earth and were looking for a traditional method to accumulate wealth. They wanted something tangible, something that was understandable and most familiar to them.  They wanted something that was simply understood and easily remedied if we miscalculated.

Real estate seemed perfect and became the new bankable industry that would turn the early drastic miscalculations around and once again set this country on firm financial ground. It was among the most tangible of all assets and historically one of the safest investments. Or so it seemed.

The first decade of the first century new millennium in America bore witness to a viral explosion in real estate investment, fueled by a seemingly perfect and lucrative storm of events: low mortgage rates and an abandonment of the equity markets. The nation created a new market overnight to continue the necessary growth in the United States and all with one simple key ingredient component: home mortgage debt.

In the blink of an eye, the American consumers, companies and investment markets shifted from an investment practice and equity-oriented philosophy that had characterized the dot.com era – to a debt-fueled runaway train with no end in sight.

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