“The Question” and Yo Mama

If our society is to continue with any resemblance to what we think of as traditional American Society, we, as a people, need to start using “The Question.”  The Question is what you should ask yourself when given a choice or opportunity. It’s a simple thing really, you turn to yourself and ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

I’ve had long talks with one of my more conservative coworkers about this and he tends to get hung up defining answer, but I contend that the important part is that you ask, with heartfelt sincerity, The Question. The answer, born of whatever rationalizations you can convince yourself of, is for you to work out. For instance, we’d like to give you $30M a year to be our CEO…is this right for the company, for myself, for my family, for the country? Can I justify my taking money that could go to hard working employees or for growing the company?

How about this, if I lay off a division of my company my bottom line will be high enough this year to get a big, multimillion dollar bonus. Is this good for the long term life of the company, or will short term gain benefit me at the cost of many. If you can convince yourself it’s right than do it, the answer to The Question is not nearly as important to society as that you asked, wrestled a little and then decided on an answer you believe to be honest. There are too many situations to make rules, but we have to find a way to institute a societal effort to do the right thing, an expectation that everyone is doing what they think is best. Think about this, if we disagree with someone, say a company president, a politician, or and insurance adjuster, but you believe they are doing their best to answer The Question, we are far more likely to cooperated to find a way to work together.

How is this different from what we have now? After all, we have laws and rules. True, but is it legal, or will I get in trouble, are not questions upon which a good society is built. Game theory has shown time and again that cooperation is mutually beneficial to all, individual benefit at the cost of others is a short term, unsustainable approach…unless you have so much power that others are forced to play on your terms. There have always been those who take at all costs, it’s just that now many of these individuals are out of reach of society as a whole. Worse, the example is bleeding down into society in general and the altruistic are seen as chumps.

Hence, part 2 of our problem, the Mama. If you are in a position of power, wealth or authority, and you are using it to acquire more power, wealth, or authority without asking “The Question,” your Mama should be calling you up and telling you, “Son (or daughter), you are shaming me by taking advantage of all those people.” Instead, it’s more like, “we are so proud of our son (or daughter), they are doing so well, look at what they bought me.”

I’ve tried to teach my kids that doing the right thing has a cost. It might be that you don’t take that last dollar for something you’re selling, but instead ask for a fair return. It might be that you give something back that you don’t have to, like the wrong change at the supermarket; the cashier might have to make your “windfall” up out of her pitiful pay. It might be that you don’t take all of that raise you are offered because the gas prices are hitting the lower wage workers harder than you. It might be that you are injured or even killed trying to help someone.

Sure we’ll get hammered by some opportunistic scum from time to time, but eventually they will be found socially unacceptable, instead of being held up as examples of captains of industry. We can’t wait for others to change, we can only change ourselves…and put pressure on those around us.

We, as a people, need to hold those who are willing ask “The Question” and to pay that price in esteem, instead of that they are somehow naive chumps, so our mama can call us up and say good job, I’m proud of you.

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Laissez-Faire

I just finished reading a commentary on CNN by a CEO named Carl Schramm. Carl, bless his heart, is lamenting the threat of a wave of government intervention in our economy. He wrings his hands and seems to say that since there is a danger of bad things happening the government should keep its hands off of the economy. Laissez Faire is the holy grail of economic prosperity.

Well Mr. Schramm, Laissez-Faire is what caused this melt down in the first place; following the buck isn’t always what’s best for society.

I wrote in an earlier post (Banks- or- I wish Adam Smith’s invisible hand would stop touching me there.) about the banking industry charging fees everywhere they can.

Health insurance companies are giving minimum services for whatever the market will bear and cutting off whoever they can who need their services.

We are bailing out the financial industry, all the while being berated for being too greedy, using too much credit, and not being careful about our investment. I must have been hit in the head because I don’t remember all that.

Politicians are telling us how we are going to have to sacrifice. Why? Because we have had so much benefit from this boom? What are the beneficiaries of this recent financial boom going to sacrifice?

I don’t know if anyone has noticed but wages have been stagnant since 2002. Our free market choices have degraded to a game of pick your rapist in banking, health insurance, and retirement. Our political system has long been a system of voting against the most odious candidate but now it has moved onto other parts of our life.

The most frustrating part is, there is no one to pressure for change. Faceless Corporate America is a tough target with no one responsible for its decisions. Not that I would expect a 40 or 60 million dollar a year CEO to take any responsibility.

I could push for change if only I could find a place to push. I feel like Archimedes, I could move the world if only I could fine a place for the lever. Well maybe it’s more like Sisyphus and his rock.

Back in Time with the New Subprime

I feel like I’ve gone back in time and I didn’t even get to drive a tricked out Delorian.

Didn’t we have a deal a few years back where we, those of us with jobs and mortgages, bailed out them, the saving and loan executives who sat behind big desks when we got our mortgages and asked us important questions about our worth as human beings in society? We saved their sorry butts and they went back to their McMansions in their gated communities in TEARS. It took days before their friends could get them out of thier houses and get them started in their new life as high paid lobbyists.

Now here we are again, institutions that ran subprime mortgage companies (some of them lived in the COUNTRY and had a lot of TIME) made a lot of money and paid their important exec big bucks. Now the chickens have come home to roost, be butchered, or I don’t know what, and who is going to have to pay? Well the people who benefited most from these risky practices and questionable advertising and misrepresentation, right? I’m sure that with what we learned with the Savings and Loan problems that our governmental representatives have put new measures in place so this time they will march right down and make the people responsible pay. Heck, how hard will it be to garnish their wages since they’re right there lobbying anyway.

No folks, we will pay. We who can’t even get an interest rate on our savings account that matches inflation. And when it’s all over, and we’ve made everything right, you can rest assured that your reward will be another set of rules and regulations that help out the banking business.

Remember bankruptcy reform? Men in fine suits talking about how irresponsible credit use had to be curbed. What he didn’t say was that most revolved credit card debt is:

1) Medical Bills (duh)

2) Car Repairs (gotta get to work)

3) Emergency Travel (Mom died)

How dare they be so irresponsible!!

Now shut up and leave me alone, I gotta fix this flux capacitor so I can get back to the future. I’m gonna look so I can get in on the next big bailout, I hope I can sleep at night though, this darn conscience is a real liability in this business.