Q. Why do financial journalists, such as you, not raise a stink when top management at different corporations (like Ford) lay off thousands of employees while retaining their jobs? A rational person would think that the financial community would call for the removal of the board of directors, the CEO, and all the top lieutenants anytime this happens.

But no, it's just accepted practice to lay off the innocents.

It's the same old story, time after time. The top people that ran the company into the ground in the first place make more money for laying off their employees who had nothing to do with it. Maybe we need an investor revolt.

---C.C., by email from Dallas


A. Don't hold your breath. Investors revolt when they lose their money, not when workers lose their jobs. Even when investors lose their money, they are ill-inclined to lead palace revolutions. Most just sell their shares. They take their money where it will be better treated. Whether employees keep their jobs is a secondary consideration to investors--- though most would prefer to own shares in companies that were hiring new workers and raising their pay.

That's the way it is.

While the behavior of American executives in recent years has been egomaniacal and self-aggrandizing to a degree most people find repulsive, the situation we are in would be little different if they were more admirable. We would still be facing disruptive technological change. We would still be confronted by massive international competition. Those are the real problems. And they have eliminated the bargaining power of most workers.

Executives aren't the cause of these changes. They are only the messengers.

Then again, it would be nice if they didn't stink so badly when they delivered the message.


Q. It is becoming clearer every day that the folks in Washington have absolutely no idea how to fix the problems staring us in the face: unfunded Social Security, Medicare, federal budget, private pensions, etc. Since they obviously plan to just let the train wreck happen, how do we best prepare for it financially?

I am 69, my wife is 60, and we are both retired. We own the standard mix of foreign and domestic stocks, bonds, iBonds, and cash.

---L.R., by email from Tyler, TX


A. You're not alone. My mail bag is growing heavy with questions from readers who are discouraged about federal and trade deficits, energy prices, employment prospects, etc.

In fact, I think there are a number of independent actions we can, and should, take to increase our personal safety and security.

The first is to take our health as a major personal responsibility. This means being physically active, eating right and acting as though our bodies deserved at least the preventive maintenance of a car. Few do this, and our failure to take personal responsibility is one of the major drivers of medical costs. Skeptical readers should check the trustees' reports for Social Security and Medicare, where they will learn that the unfunded liabilities of Medicare Part D alone are already estimated at twice the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and as large as all U.S. Treasury debt.

The second is to clean up our personal balance sheets. This means going on a strict credit diet, eliminating credit card balances and high cost personal debt. For older people, it means eliminating home mortgages. For younger people, it means having a home mortgage they can manage through thick or thin. Doing this will not be a cause of great suffering: Consumer purchasing power will rise when less is paid in interest to lenders.

The third is to take steps to reduce personal energy consumption. This means buying fuel efficient cars even when less efficient cars are easily affordable and treating money spent on home energy consumption as money poorly spent. Energy imports account for a major portion of our negative balance of trade. The same money, spent domestically, would boost the domestic economy.