Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

 We will never be the same because of the economic crisis of this year.  In one way, at least, this is a good thing.   We now have an opportunity to become informed about the way our financial system works, what roles politics, lobbying by so many special interest groups, and government regulation and oversight play in this very complicated dance of economic stability.  We must now understand how important it is to become an informed citizen who must participate in all levels of our government.  The stakes are too high, not just for the adults who let this happen, but for our children and grandchildren. 

Many Americans have chosen to live in ignorance of basic economic theory, the role of our government in the regulation of financial markets, the roles of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department,  the Federal Reserve, and the impact of Wall Street and our banking system on our public and private lives.  We have acted as if “checks and balances”, less government oversight, and concepts like “trickle down economics” were absolutes and would always keep us safe.  We had the Resolution Trust and Long Term Capital Management debacles to warn us. 

But many of us, apparently most of us, were willing to let the foxes of Wall Street guard the hen house of market regulation. We chose to accept what we were told as truth in all areas of financial policy.   We did not learn the basics.  For example, we were not paying attention when the five commissioners of the SEC changed the rules in 2004 as a consequence of big investment bank pressure.  The old rule had required brokerage units of these same big investment banks to limit the amount of debt they could take on.  The exemption granted by the SEC in 2004 allowed those banks to use billions to invest in risky financial instruments like mortgage backed securities, all in the spirit of deregulation.   We did not follow the actions and decisions of our regulatory bodies carefully. We did not demand that our congress monitor these agencies.  We were content to just let the party continue. (An easy, if painful summary of is provided by  this week's series from the New York Times, "The Reckoning.")

I hear from people across the country.  There is a prevailing sense of hopelessness, despair, and depression.  Citizens feel that they were victims of “unscrupulous “mortgage brokers and real estate brokers.  They feel that the roller coaster ride of the real estate boom and bust cycle was terribly unfair.   As the housing crisis began to unfold, people began to understand that the mortgage brokers, who were driven by greed, made home loans to people who were unlikely to be able to repay them. These mortgages were then bundled and traded as risky financial instruments, the so called mortgage backed securities.  Mortgage backed paper lost a huge portion of its value as mortgage defaults rose. The increasing mortgage defaults drove the banks into a credit crisis and banks stopped lending money to both individuals and companies.  The near collapse of the banking system virtually destroyed its ability to make loans.  This lack of credit took an already weak economy and dragged it toward a deep recession.  People feel that they were convinced that they could afford a mortgage for a home.  When they could not pay their mortgages, they had to default on the mortgages, lose their homes and then lose their credit.  Now, they fear that with joblessness rising, and credit non- existent, there is no hope for them.   I hear that people feel as though they are controlled by Washington and Wall Street.  I hear that the common man in America will never matter.

There has never been a more important time for Americans to pay attention to the opportunity that this wide and deep economic catastrophe offers us.  We need to become informed as citizens about the issues that affect our nation’s future and we need to become informed quickly.  There is no time to waste.  It does us no good to listen to candidates in debates who won’t answer questions.  It does us no good to listen to the rehearsed sound bites.  It is impossible to find clarity by reading only one source or watching only one news program.  It is the homework and research paper of our future that we are individually responsible for now.  It is time for every block, every community, every library, every high school and community college to begin the conversation about “issues that every citizen must understand”.  This knowledge can produce an electorate who can pull away the curtain from the Wizards of Oz who have been running our financial markets and our country and expose them for what they really are. 

I don’t tell anyone how to vote, but unless we want more of the same with ever more serious consequences, we must get involved in the return of our country to the people who really matter, the ordinary citizens.  I urge each of us to ask, “Do we want to just be the citizens who have lived in this bubble of “irrational exuberance”, who have lived as though this party would never end, to live now as victims, to live with no voice, no vote that counts?  Or, do we want to be citizens of a great democracy who recognize that each of us and our elected representatives have  failed  to meet the hopes the founding fathers had for our country, but that we can change, we must change?  We can no longer be ignorant about domestic policy, foreign policy, energy policy, economic policy, the national debt, and the responsibility of the government to oversee the safety of our food and drug supply, to regulate the financial markets, to provide for the repair of infrastructure, to keep us safe. 

 Ignorance is the virus that has infected our country, worsened by our weakened immune response caused by our individual sloth and willingness to unconditionally accept the policies and fear mongering of our elected leaders without asking any hard questions.  It is time to become an informed citizen who makes choices based on facts, who makes choices based on the public record of our candidates’ performance and experience in service to our country and their performance during this political race.  It is time to make choices mindful of the history of our country and the hopes that we still hold for the future of our democracy. This is no time to vote the party of our youth, the party of our community, the party of our race, or the party of our faith. 

 Vote as though your life depends on it.  Trust me, it does.

-Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD

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  • Cathy Warren October 14, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Absolutely Patricia; Time to know the truth. Stay informed. Understand the issues. Know their consequences. Be involved. Make change happen. . We are the people, we must be heard. In case we forgot,the government works for us.

  • John Reed October 6, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Good analysis. The public is ignorant of history. I’ve spent the last two months going over the ledger of my grandfather’s drug store covering 1913-1932. Sales were $54000 in 1928 and $18000 in 1932. He made it through and finally paid off all his debts in the early 1950s. We can get through. It can be done, but not without a serious attitude adjustment.
    The key is not in Washington or Wall Street. Look how much is totally wasted on gambling, entertainment, sports, drugs and irrational consumerism.

  • James Marn October 5, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Yes, we all have a responsibility to be informed about what our government is or is not doing.
    Our politicians went too far. While it is the hope that every American will be able to own his own home, it is not an inalienable right. For our government to aid and abet everyone regardless of financial capabilities or knowledge to buy a home as we know now was irresponsible and reckless.
    No one has a right to own a home.