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When Did Americans Start Playing It Safe?

There seems to be a paralysis in America right now. Companies are afraid to hire even though they are sitting on hordes of cash. Politicians are afraid to show leadership on certain issues as it may cost them the next election. People are afraid to move forward with a purchase of a home because they are afraid a better buy will appear next week. Everyone wants to PLAY IT SAFE.

Playing it safe did not make this country what it is today. If General Washington played it safe, we would still be talking with a British accent. If Dr. King played it safe, he would have told us about a plan he had not that he had a dream. If Disney played it safe, there would be no Disneyworld.

If my pop played it safe, he would have kept us in an apartment in the Bronx and not moved us 50 miles east into our own home with our own backyard on Long Island. However, he didn’t play it safe. Was he nervous about the financial responsibilities that came with buying his first home? Of course he was. But he loved his family so much he didn’t allow fear to paralyze him. He conquered his fear and did what he knew was the right thing to do. If he were alive today, I’d hug him right now.

Companies, politicians and the American people have to get back to dreaming and doing the right thing. This country has always been a place where, if you work hard, your dreams can come true. That is still true today.

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23 replies
  1. Don Reedy
    Don Reedy says:

    Steve, I’m with you, but I think I actually KNOW when American’s started playing it safe…..and it’s not a pretty sight.

    In just about all aspects of life you’re apt to start playing it safe when you perceive that you have enough, or more than enough. Sound familiar?

    Well, we (as a country) think we have enough, and we’ve started to hoard what we have rather than investing and growing. The path your father, my father, and the nation took just fifty years ago is covered over now with the stuff, the wealth, the safe feeling we’ve developed for ourselves. It’s no longer the path most taken, but rather is the path less taken…or even recognized.

    The good news is that the old familiar path that was adventurous, risky, and allowed us as a nation to stretch our legs is still there. It’s just covered over. The bad news is that it may well take a financial storm to uncover that path once more.

    Thanks for reminding me and everyone how lucky we were to have had parents and friends who traveled the path that made America great.

  2. Andrea F
    Andrea F says:

    This has an erroneous premise, that we are all risk takers. Historically, from an economic standpoint, we show to be risk averse post financial collapse. We also can’t seem to learn that in allowing industries to self regulate (mortgage banking being a prime, recent and painful example to many), lessons go unheeded.
    It is up to these industries to restore the confidence, not the consumer to “man up” as the article suggests.
    Case in point:

  3. Sarah Schneider
    Sarah Schneider says:

    Thank you for this post. This inertia is exactly what is killing tbe real estate market right now. The worst part is, the longer consumers wait the more they are going to pay long term. Real estate is the spine of our economy and nothing happens anywhere until real estate is sold. It effects every business in the world. We need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and stop waiting for someone else to bring this market back and start being the ones bringing it back. Be the solution, not the pproblem. Be the ball. End the paralysis. Keep moving forward!

  4. Lexreo
    Lexreo says:

    This is irresponsible and another purveyor of “kool aid”. Further declines are projected in the real estate market and your advice is self serving and just wrong.

  5. Cosmo Weems
    Cosmo Weems says:

    Its smart to be cautious when there is risk.
    Risk is not paying so well now and it is in fact a loosing deal at this time.
    Investors are not worried about the return on their investment.
    Investors are worried about the return of their investment.

    Caution is popular now due to the USA being more bankrupt than Greece
    Or the tax break corporations get for sending should departments to over seas workers and firing the Americans.
    Or the stock market losses
    Or the real estate losses
    Or 9% unemployment
    Or $4 a gallon gas every 6 months
    Or rising state taxes
    Or bankrupts states
    Or cut services
    Or having negative depreciation on your home
    Or seeing all the empty foreclosed homes in your neighborhood
    Or seeing the empty stores in our towns
    Or real estate foreclosures
    Or the 41 cents of every dollar the US govt/ borrows for every dollar it spends
    Or maybe its the money the govt borrowed from our Social Security and blew on wars and projects
    Or the Europe situation
    Or talk of bulldozing houses
    Or builders not building
    Or the melting reactors
    Or 80 of the 100 largest American corporations not man’ing up and paying their taxes like we do
    Or corporate off shore accounts to avoid man’ing up on their American tax obligations
    Or …

    Be my guest – beat your chest and “man up”.
    Put your money where your mouth is.
    Ignore the current economic situation.
    For the egos that need to be puffed being an ostrich is more comforting than being a chicken little.
    Lets see who is left standing in a few years.

    Apparently we have learend discretion is the better part of valor.

  6. Ruthmarie Hicks
    Ruthmarie Hicks says:

    I agree and I disagree.
    I agree that it will COST MORE to own real estate down the road. Interest rates can’t defy the laws of the market forever and prices are positively scrumptious. If ever there was a time to buy real estate – that time is NOW. Could prices go lower? Of course. However, the combination of low prices and low interest rates have been around too long already. People are taking those deals for granted – and that’s the problem. They won’t always be there. Meanwhile my buyers have no urgency and want to see 1000 homes before they think they can make a “decision” only to find that what they wanted sold long before they got through their list.

    However, RISK TAKING – requires confidence in the future. People don’t have confidence in what will be happening in the future. I’m not confident with people like the Tea Party controlling Washington. They rejoice in being know-nothings and a blind man running the economy in a serious recession is not a good thing.

    I’m bullish on housing for one reason. Rents have only one place to go UP. Demand is crazy – nothing is on the rental market for more than a few days. I’m seeing over a 10% increase in rents over the last 6-9 months in some complexes. Buying has not been this cheap in real terms in a generation. It is cheaper to BUY than to rent. Its time for buyers to come back in for the sake of STABILIZING their outlay. In other words – I see it as a hedge to the current risk that is all around us.

  7. Henry K
    Henry K says:

    We can go back in history and find examples of when some heroes took risk that paid off as well as examples when it didn’t pay off. The idea is to take a prudent amount of risk. Its too early to say whats the right strategy right now but I wouldn’t prescribe to the “always on offense” philosophy. You have to look at the market (in general and in your area) and your circumstances too.

    If some people who shouldn’t be taking risk had played it safe, we wouldn’t be in this mess to start with. Housing is a bigger risk and a bigger investment than everyone wants to believe. There is nothing wrong in thinking through. Owning cannot be the right answer for everyone

  8. len
    len says:

    It’s not about playing in safe, its about being wise to the new realities. Historically people were foolish by buying homes without a decent downpayment for example. Now America has learned a lesson and needs to follow the basics like downpayment, monthly payment affordability etc. People have become wiser not safe. And unless prices come down from artificially induced policies of the past, we will NOT buy homes we cannot afford, sorry.


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  1. […] When Did Americans Start Playing It Safe?. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] by Steve Harney on August 2, 2011 · 2 comments […]

  3. […] emotional security is a little more difficult to define.  The quote on the left is from the KCM Blog and sums it up pretty well.  I agree with the author’s sentiments.  Americans will be […]

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