Business Books: Peter Pan syndrome hits Wall Street

Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:51pm EDT
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By Lisa Von Ahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If countries were fairytale characters, who would the United States be? New York Times correspondent Peter Goodman nominates Peter Pan, the boy who lives in a place called Neverland and refuses to grow up.

It was this Neverland mindset that led to credit, technology and housing booms and busts over the past 15 years, Goodman writes in a new book, "Past Due" (Times Books, $25).

"Americans have operated as if we can fly, borrowing increasingly enormous sums of money while making believe it need never be paid back, while Wall Street had cavorted across an island of unlimited adventure and no adult supervision," he writes.

The results have devastated many people, and Goodman weaves in their stories to drive home that point.

Dorothy Thomas lived beyond her means for years, tapping credit cards to live in neighborhoods she otherwise could not afford so she could send her children to good public schools. Then a few bad moves -- getting pulled over after failing to pay some motor vehicle fees -- left her without a car, which in turn cost her a job and, eventually, her home.

Truck driver Greg Bailey turned down college scholarships to watch over his crack cocaine-addicted mother. Years later, he tried to break into the white-collar world by taking a training course, but still could not find a job that paid a living wage, let alone one in his chosen field.

Goodman acknowledges that his subjects made mistakes, but he pins most of the blame on corporate America, Wall Street and the government officials who deregulated banking and other industries.

And while many enjoyed a boom before financial markets crashed last year, the people hit hardest by the crash never even partook of the good times.   Continued...