Friday, December 26, 2008

Not Guilty

In reading about the bank, mortgage, auto, and employment crises in the media, I notice a common theme appearing over and over, specifically that everyone must share the guilt. The writers do this, I think, in anticipation of government actions which will, in the main, punish the public. While this may seem a utilitarian answer and therefore the most likely to be chosen, it is morally unacceptable and will likely lead to great resentment among the many millions of Americans who are in no way responsible for causing the problems or guilty of overindulgence.

I speak as one such citizen. My house is a modest one-story home bought for $150,000 in 2005, and my car is a 12-year-old sedan with 145,000 miles on it. My wife’s car is a 10-year old CRV. I pay the mortgage every month, right on time, and we paid off the cars long ago, foregoing flashy cars and luxury vehicles we could easily have bought but always put prudence ahead of ego. We pay the total balance on our credit cards each and every month, and have never spent money on anything that could be called an extravagance. What’s significant is, pretty much everyone in my subdivision could say the same – we work hard for our money and are careful not to buy things we cannot pay for, and we do not cheat anyone. We work hard and build for the future, the future we promised to our children. And I would dare to say we would resent the hell out of being expected to pay for the sins of others, since our children would end up suffering through no fault of their own. I will not help a thief, even and especially if he sits in a taxpayer-provided seat in Washington, D.C.

This is the hard nut at the center of the mortgage, banking, and auto crisis. There are people who took gambles, spent money they knew they did not have and who ignored every warning sign, confident that if everything fell apart, they could still cajole someone else to cover for them. People who buy homes they knew they could not pay for, should not be able to keep them. Companies which made deals they knew would cripple them without government help should simply not receive that bailout. Investors who bought financial instruments and now want someone else to eat the risk that came with their deal should be made to accept the consequences, the full consequences, of their own decision. People who have been careful and frugal should be rewarded, but frankly no one else. And at some point I think the message will be obvious – reward and protect the people who did the right thing, and put the cost on the ones who spent where there was no money, and chose to gamble instead of being careful in their savings and investments. No one has offered to pay me what I lost in stocks I own and I accept that as valid, since I took the risk along with the hope of gain when I bought those stocks. But if a politician plans to slam my kids because it’s a fix that will help him get re-elected, especially with special-interest groups that not only have no interest in changing their behavior or repaying for the damage they did, but who have shown no contrition in the first place for doing what they knew was wrong, well that politician, be he congressman, senator, or even president, is in for a world of hurt, because for all the hype, people can still tell right from wrong, and making innocent people pay for the sins of the guilty is something that should be rejected by all good people, and I think in the end it will be rejected, along with all the mandarins and con men in Washington trying to shill it off on us.

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