Most of you have been watching politicians shuck and jive in predictable ways to try and manage the even more predictable liquidity crisis that has terrorized our financial markets. As a supporter of Senator Barack Obama, I am hopeful that this will serve as the final signal to America that a Harvard graduate with extensive Economics training might be a better choice than a mediocre student who claims to know nothing about the economy. I won’t even mention Sarah Palin, who now makes George Bush the runner-up in the “Unfit to Manage a Burger King” contest. I am not big on Obama-mania, but I tend to be big on common sense. It is also telling that many Americans would sacrifice our nation’s future in order to avoid the discomfort of seeing a Black man in the White House. OK, let me shut up before I say what I REALLY think.
This is not about the pale one called Palin or John McCain’s Black Extermination Plan for criminal justice. It is about USOBA. USOBA doesn’t stand for the “United States of Obama”, rather, it stands for the “United States of Black America”. This is about finding ways to manage, contextualize and internalize this crisis so we can figure out what to do right now. Neither McCain nor Obama is going to take care of you and your family, since politicians tend to take care of themselves (note Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s prior affiliation with Goldman Sachs will likely drive his desire to save his Wall Street buddies). The truth is that we are all Presidents of our own households, and as President, your job is to shield your household from the impact of FICA - The Financial Ignorance Crisis of America. Here are some quick thoughts:
1) The government bail-out doesn’t necessarily mean you should bail-out of the Stock Market: If you are invested in the Stock Market, I would strongly consider staying there, especially if you are under the age of 50. In fact, you might want to buy more stocks. Warren Buffett (a man who is sometimes wrong) had it absolutely right when he said that you should “be greedy when everyone else is cautious and cautious when everyone else is greedy.” Drops in the Stock Market can be the best times to invest because the historical data clearly shows that when the US Stock Market declines, it eventually comes back up. Personally, I plan to use this market decline as an opportunity to expand my portfolio. But I am not going to try and pick individual companies: I am going to buy into a diversified mutual fund that spreads my money around the entire global economy.
2) Paying off credit card debt is one of the best investments you can make: Which would you prefer? To possibly earn 10% interest in an investment in the Stock Market or to DEFINITELY save 18% per year on that high interest credit card in your purse? Remember that money SAVED is money EARNED. Get rid of the bulk of your high interest debt before you even consider investing in the Stock Market or anywhere else.
3) Change the game: With all of Barack Obama’s speeches about how Black men need to learn personal responsibility, he may have wanted to save that speech for the rest of America. The typical American consumer has been incredibly irresponsible with spending, saving, borrowing and investing habits over the past 20 years. I grow sick of seeing one article after another attempting to argue that African Americans have a monopoly on irresponsible financial behavior. Don’t believe the hype – ALL OF AMERICA has a problem with financial choices. The goal is not for you to emulate the behavior of the rest of America….it is to set a new standard. Black people can be quite good at saving money. Many of our grandmothers could support a household with two nickels and a hot dog bun. Perhaps we can tap into our natural survival instincts to get us through this mess.
4) This crisis might be the tip of the iceberg: I agree with my respected colleague Paul Krugman at Princeton, who is the only other commentator I’ve heard mention that recent financial problems may be nothing more than a symptom of more serious fundamental issues in the US economy. All I could say when I heard that was “Amen”. Without going into much detail, I can say that it is time to remember that old saying “Learn to save your money, so your money can save you.”
5) Don’t be “scuuuurred” (translation for the uppity among us: “Don’t be afraid”): This is NOT the end of the world. The financial systems are not going to melt down. This is not likely going to be the start of any kind of Great Depression. Truth be told, the Black community has been in a Great Depression for about 400 years! We have survived worse, and just because the economy struggles, that doesn’t mean you have to struggle along with it. Remember that our greatest challenges are usually our greatest opportunities for growth. Learn from this experience, grow from it, and we will continue to move forward.
Your financial liberation is part of your social and spiritual liberation. Let’s use the shake-up as an opportunity to shake ourselves off the plantation. I’m tired of someone else owning me.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the forthcoming book “Black American Money”. For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.