Main Street, Wall Street, what's the difference?
Currently in the news, there's a general sense of doom and gloom over the global financial market due to problems from Wall Street, a real street in New York City where major banks are located. Wall Street is the financial center of America as well as the global capital market in general.
Spearheaded by failings first detected in mortgage firms whose managers promised home buyers too good a deal to sustain, other investment banks are soon found to have long been digging holes for themselves also. The upshot is, many – perhaps most because they all operate on more or less the same fundamental risk-reward principles – major banks are either insolvent or on the brink.
Hence the Bush Administration's highly necessary but unpopular bailout plan that effectively asks tax payers to fork out a gargantuan US$700 billion to get the banks back on their feet. That will help make sure banks are willing to lend money to each other and to manufacturers again. That is the plan. It may work. It will work to some extent because after all, money makes the world go round. Anyways, if it works, the global financial system can function as normal again.
And that, among other things, will probably start another vicious cycle, leading to something like the present debacle once again some time in future. That is, according to the innermost fears of the free-market advocate. Banks, you see, will have the money to hedge and gamble again, enriching corporate executives while perhaps accumulating more bad debts, till one day, the whole thing collapses again like a paper house. And the tax payer represented by the government has to step in do it again (so that banks can again have a clean sheet to start the roulette running one more time).
That's just capitalism at work, or some say, at its worst.
Hence and therefore the unpopular Bush plan. Common folks rightfully ask why they the people should pay for the failures of the fat cats. The fat cats (bank managers) will have sold their stocks before the markets crash or had long before resigned, or been fired, and landed safely with a golden parachute (we'll talk about the parachute another day). In other words, there is no punishment for corporate executives who run their banks to the ground.
This leads us to the chagrin on Main Street. Main Street is the generic term for cities' busiest shopping centers. It's similar to High Street in Britain. In contrast to Wall Street, where big money changes hands, the Main Street is where common folks eke out a trade.
The financial crisis in America has united the two streets in that they are often seen in the same sentence, such as for example: Dump Wall Street's Trash on Main Street.
Not that the two streets will ever unite in the proper sense, but Main Street does share some of the blame for Wall Street's woes in that every time Wall Street executives come up with something rewarding (to Wall Street) but risky (to Main Street), Main Street folks lap it up. Main Street, you see, takes the bait and that is the problem. For example, if the American public doesn't live on borrowed money (credit cards, etc.) so much, they'll probably not have to pay so handsomely for the current credit crunch. Wall Street, of course, will not have merited such a sweeping cleanup. Not so soon, at any rate.
Anyways, that's a light-hearted street talk on the serious business of money matters on Wall Street. Please go check the news and correct me if you can.
Here are a few headlines:
1. Main Street turns against Wall Street (Money.cnn.com, September 28, 2008).
2. Wall Street's troubles disable credit on Main Street (International Herald Tribune, September 19, 2008).
3. Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes? (NBER.org, July, 2008).
4. From Wall Street to Main Street: Lessons from the Great Depression (Voxeu.org, September 28, 2008).