Top Business Stories of 2008 Are Changing The American Dream

BlogHer Original Post

Does it really matter if the AP Editors say that the number one business story of the year is the Wall Street Turmoil while the folks at Time say it's Bernie Madoff's $50 Ponzi Scheme,and the powers that be at say it was sub-prime mortgages?

It could just have easily been the recession, $5 a gallon gas, $1.60 gas, a lousy holiday retail season,the bailouts, falling housing prices, disappearing 401(k)s, the non-spending consumer,and of course the ever increasing unemployment rate.

Whether you live in New York City or Wall South Dakota,whether you have a job that is secure or one that is at risk, whether you own a home with lots of equity, or you own a home thats value is now lower than your mortgage, whether you are debt-free or have a terrible credit score, whether your investments are doing better than average or whether you have been wiped out, for most of us the real business story is that the economy has shattered our belief that we can achieve our personal American Dream.

The economists can argue till the cows come home about the pros and cons of letting Lehman Brothers implode, giving the banks the $700 billion bailout, pointing fingers at those responsible for sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps, but in the end, it's people's lives and dreams that really matter.

If there is anything that epitomizes the American Dream it's starting and succeeding in your own business. Being a business owner in 2008 is less American Dream and more American nightmare. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Simona Covel chronicled the lives of three small business owners who are having night sweats.

After spending nearly 20 years building her own business, Cookie Driscoll thinks it might be over.

Ms. Driscoll owns C. Cookie Driscoll Inc., of Fairfield, Pa., which sells animal-themed gifts and office-promotional products. In the past year, she has seen nine of the mom-and-pop shops that buy her goods shutter -- often without paying their outstanding invoices. Her bank revoked her credit line. She expects revenue to be under $60,000 this year, down from a peak of nearly $230,000 a few years ago. She is taking almost no income from her business and paying bills with the last $16,000 from her retirement account.

    "I'm as close to a panic as I've ever been," says the 57-year-old Ms. Driscoll. "This is the most terrified I've ever been in my life."

Then there are the victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme. Alexandra Penney was one of those victims who had worked, saved and until a couple of weeks ago was living her idea of the American Dream.
That was before she learned that her American Dream was simply a financial mirage.

A former editor of Self Magazine, Ms. Penney had all of her money invested with Madoff. She has started a blog on the Daily Beast called The Bag Lady Papers that is going to chronicle her life PM- post-Madoff.

    More than a decade ago, when I was in my late 40s, I handed over my life savings to Madoff’s firm. It was money I’d been tucking away since I was 16 years old, when I began working summers in Lord & Taylor, earning about $65 a week. Not a penny was inherited. Not one cent was from my divorce. I earned all of it myself, through a long string of jobs that included working as a cashier at Rosedale fish market in New York City in my 20s, and later, writing bestselling sex books.

    Before I reached for a bedtime Tylenol PM, I Googled the Hemlock Society. I wanted to know a painless way to die.

    When I hung up with my friend, I turned on the TV and began to scour Google for news until the message became nauseatingly clear: Forty years of savings—the money I’d counted on to take me comfortably through the next 30 years—had likely evaporated in Madoff’s scheme.

Reaction to her blog has been a mixed bag. Many readers have no sympathy for a woman who is worried about keeping her multiple homes, her three- day-a-week maid,and who is distraught that after 30 years of taking cabs she now has to rediscover the subway.

Their reaction is Boo-Hoo - suck it up.

I believe the blog is her way of sucking it up. After reading her post I did not feel sorry for her just sad that she was robbed --sad that her American Dream has evaporated.

At the same time,there is a wicked humor to her writing even days after learning that Madoff had made off with all her money.

Somehow knowing that even in her darkest moments she has the ability to see the irony/humor in her situation, makes me want to root for her.

While Alexandra Penney is using her blog to help get through her loss,Marci Alboher recently learned that The New York Times was dropping her blog, Shifting Careers.

As an online journalist focusing on work and careers, and as someone who fervently believes that embracing new technology is crucial to surviving as a journalist, I too felt like one of the safe ones.

Friends said I’d go through stages. And I have.

The morning I got the call giving me the news, I was shocked. A mere few weeks before, I received a very favorable “review” (inasmuch as a non-employee can be reviewed) and an increase in pay. Many of my articles had hit the most-e-mailed list and generated lively discussion in the comments. I was told my traffic was looking good (though I’d also been told not to be too concerned about my traffic).People at The Times seemed pleased that television and radio shows were calling regularly to book me for appearances.

By later that morning, I felt angry and frustrated.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague and commiserating about "the unknown" aka the 2009 economy. It was a dark conversation where we shared our fears and our realities.

At one point he quoted a line from a Mary Oliver poem called "Wild Geese."

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Hearing  the poem buoyed my spirits.It reminded me that as darkand scary as the economy is,having the opportunity to share those fears with a blog community is a gift that I cherish.The poem also reminded me that even as you are saying good-bye to one dream, another emerges. 


Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness.

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