Jewish World Review July 23, 2002 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

One man's warning -- Given recent corporate accounting scandals, one group will suffer immeasurable pain: America's senior citizens, people for whom economic collapse, war and political indifference are life's introductory and concluding chapters -- words within a grandly illustrated text, pictures of newly dispatched soldiers, inspirational leaders and controversial headlines.

For, beyond the economy's physical integrity (where the stock exchange's classical architecture remains polished and strong, or Enron's televised logo regularly rotates), worthless paper covers the nation's streets. Paper with cursive elegance and calligraphic precision, entitling the beholder - the inheritor, buyer or beneficiary - to 50, 100, 300 or 10,000 shares of Worldcom, Enron or Global Crossing stock. And, for one cautionary voice (hoarse from exhaustion and overwhelmed by the nation's collective greed), there is only the spiritual comfort of history's reminder and honor's refrain -- I told you so!

For Jan Warner ( and ), an independent spokesman for the rights of the elderly, lawyer, a United Media syndicated columnist and popular radio host, the warning signs are forever clear: False profits are themselves almost always prophetic; cryptic messages that, once cleared of ancient dust or magnified by actuarial proof, read like a ransom note against America's elderly population. A population that can no longer enjoy the blessed benefits of retirement nor afford the necessary (but unnecessarily expensive) costs of basic health insurance, much less assisted living or nursing home care. A population, in short, that now bequeaths a new generation - not sentimental heirlooms, vast estates or rustic farms - but the debtor's bills and the creditor's demands; a last testament written by The Wall Street Journal, videotaped by CNBC and certified by Arthur Andersen.

And yes, the absence of individual scrutiny explains a lot about the current economic malaise.

Indeed, Warner repeats his warning like a financial mantra -- investors must employ an independent auditing system before purchasing financial products. This system, already used to protect consumers from buying unreliable cars or undesirable homes, may be the only guarantee against questionable accounting procedures. How else to prevent the transformation of Wall Street into a glorified used car lot, where the broker's tailored suit is an expensive substitute for the dealer's polyester populism -- promises of value and affordability, offset by tasteless banners, broadcasts and bunting ("All Products Must Go!")?

Warner's advice also involves health-related implications. His financial analysis establishes a link among individual insolvency, governmental incompetence and corporate greed. In other words, programs like Social Security and Medicare - political relics, insufficiently designed and inefficiently run - are the recession's most costly victims. For these programs will economically enslave the nation's youngest workers, while denying America's elderly population any semblance of personal decency. Taken with an inability to trust corporate America, our seniors are in serious trouble.

But Warner's message contains its own positive lesson: that fiscal reform is the most important (and realistically achievable) antidote against the elderly community's genuine and symbolic problems. These problems include recently evaporated funds, perpetually mismanaged programs and an adversely targeted population. The only solution, therefore, is national protest; a loud, banging knock against the Capitol's door, an independent declaration nailed outside and redistributed inside -- "We, the nation's taxpaying people, cannot and will not finance a series of ineffective programs that sap one man's wallet to unsuccessfully save another man's financial heart. We can no longer socialize our security and undermine our safety."

Warner's solutions are practical and important. More importantly, his warnings reveal the government's economically destructive policies. These actions demand immediate reform, before the nation's elderly find themselves further mislead by corporate promises and political forecasts. The only answer involves a combination of caution, planning, honesty and necessary change.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Lewis A. Fein