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Guest column | Rao Musunuru

Behavior change key treatment for economy

I can talk about matters of the heart for any length of time. When it comes to the economy, I am totally confused and frustrated. Like most of the country, I am trying to understand.

As I understand it (perhaps oversimplified):

The United States got into deep financial trouble mostly because people have spent money they did not have and have no means to pay it back (called bad credit). The solution, according to the experts, seems to be the government spending more money that it does not have (called stimulus or recovery).

To have more real money — unlike some of the imaginary money of the stock market that we keep gaining and mostly losing — the government has to print it, we have to produce more or we need to borrow. Right now, it seems like we are going to borrow more. Which means somebody down the road has to pay it back. If we cannot or do not, the people or the countries that lend us the money will find themselves in the same sinking boat.

I consider myself, for the most part, an optimist. I expect and accept natural and man-made cycles of good and bad and up and down. I always thought, once things got worse, people would realize that they were doing the wrong things and they would straighten up their act and things would get better. In the past, people and countries seem to have gotten out of financial troubles mostly by producing more. This time, we seem to be trying to get out of trouble mostly by spending more. That is what we have to do on a short-term basis to enjoy the long-term success, experts say.

We took things for granted too long. Prosperity is like having good health. We abuse it until we lose it. We do not appreciate it as long as we have it. Over the years, greed replaced need, complacence replaced creativity and competition, exploitation replaced exploration and inertia replaced innovation.

The federal government seems to be helping people, like it should, on a temporary basis by paying utility bills for a few months, extending unemployment benefits for a few more months, aiding home buyers, paving roads, buying buses, etc.

Where are the new permanent jobs going to come from after all of our outsourcing? What are we producing? What did we learn? How are we getting better? What happened to harsh punishments for perpetrators of fraud? Where are the regulations and restrictions to curb and curtail excessive greed?

We seem to be concentrating on getting some extra fuel for the economy bus to go forward a few miles, while not fixing the serious problems with the engine and the transmission.

Without sincere hard work and serious sacrifice from all the parties involved — the public and the politicians, employers and the employees, companies and the unions alike — I do not understand how we are going to get this stalling bus going again this time.

I used to think that a million dollars is a lot of money and a billion is a big deal. I am beginning to learn that a trillion became trivial. I am also beginning to learn new meanings and new applications to many words like ''toxic'' and "stress test."

I am still trying to understand. The optimist in me is hoping that all these experts cannot be wrong and we are going to do just fine without needing to change our behavior.

But then, the realist in me cannot help but wonder — aren't these the same experts (irrespective of their political affiliation and in spite of their good intentions) who got us here in the first place?

Hopefully, the timely infusion of new blood is going to resuscitate the ailing economy. Also hopefully, the treatment is not going to be worse than the disease. As with any other ailment, whether we like it or not, behavior change is going to be the key component of treatment and recovery. Of course, helping one another is always an essential ingredient of any prescription, especially when times are tough.

Dr. Rao Musunuru is a cardiologist practicing at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

Behavior change key treatment for economy 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 6:31pm]
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