Open a drawer.
Empty, I mean completely empty, a basket of laundry. Search the bottom of a toy chest. Check the floor of your teenage daughter's closet. Look under the second bench seat in your minivan. What are you likely to find? A Beanie Baby. These maddeningly ubiquitous, fatuously cheerful, brightly colored, annoying pieces of crap still lurk beneath the surface of our everyday lives. Of course, Pinchers the Lobster, Patti the Platypus, and the Princess Diana bear are now dirty, moth-eaten, and missing button eyes and paper eartags. We kick them aside; we reject them; we toss them in the bag for Goodwill. Slightly ashamed of the value we once attributed to them, we slide them out of sight.
We should enshrine them. Build an altar to our folly. Display them on our mantels. Allow them to prick our conscience daily.
Why? Because they are symbolic of all that is wrong with U.S. economy.
Launched in 1993, the Beanies set off an craze of unparalleled proportions. Embracing the illusion that the Beanies were "collectibles," adults bought, traded, and amassed ridiculous numbers of these little plush toys. The "rare" ones were deemed to have lasting value. Entire stores were built around this "collectible" market. Ensconced in acrylic boxes, these toys were considered (no joke) "an investment."
Ummm ... did anyone notice that they were polyester bags filled with plastic pellets produced for only pennies each in China?
Not exactly the stuff to retire on.
News flash - your 401 K is a Beanie Baby.
You thought your retirement account had endless value. Capable of increasing arithmetically, your account would yield a 50% return on your original principal. Money makes money and more money! Words like "hedgefunds," "mutual funds," and "small cap appreciation" crept into your water-cooler conversations. Everyone wanted in on a hot IPO. Today's middle-manager would be tomorrow's millionaire. Throw in more money, leverage your account to buy a huge house, invest in rental real estate, buy tech stock, day trade, hell ... go nuts! What can go wrong? The value can only go up, right?
Your green Paddy Bear with the happy Shamrock stitched on his chest has a rip in his side. Most of his plastic pellets now reside in your vacuum cleaner. You couldn't sell, auction him, or trade him if you had to. He ain't worth a dime.
Unearth him from under the bookcase. Build a shelf for him in a prominent place. Let Paddy Bear remind you everyday that there's no such thing as easy money, that wealth is something built slowly through hard work and cautious investment, and that polyester and plastic can never add up to gold.