Monday, December 15, 2008

These Will Be "The Bad Old Days"

I believe in meritocracy. Someone with a special, unique talent or skill or knowledge that is beneficial to society can be rewarded extravagantly and I don’t mind. I also believe in the basic tenets of capitalism – or at least the version of capitalism I was taught as a kid in school. Competition, for example, is a good thing because products and services that are better than their peers will out-compete those that are inferior. People who invent, manufacture, and market the superior products deserve to be compensated more than those who are associated with inferior versions. Indeed, those with inferior products deserve to go broke.

In traveling the world I’ve seen evidence that seems to support my beliefs. For example, in Vietnam the economy was in shambles after the north won the war against the U.S. and tried to implement collectivist communism. After years in which people nearly starved to death, the government allowed a restricted form of free-market economy and things are booming – in just a couple of years the country went from having to import rice to feed its people to being a rice exporter. And people who are enterprising, clever, and hard-working are being rewarded for their efforts. This same scenario has been happening recently in other communist countries as well, including China.

And now for the “BUT.”

Revelations coming from the recent economic crisis suggest that my beliefs are way too idealistic and don’t pertain to how things actually are in this country (maybe they never did). For example, we’ve learned that many CEO’s are grossly overcompensated relative to their performance, to the point that even G.W. Bush warned big companies almost two years ago that CEO pay should be more closely tied to shareholder interests. The huge bailout packages to financial companies and most recently to GM, Ford, and Chrysler, show that poor judgment and inferior products don’t mean failure at all – the risks of big business are now assumed by consumers and taxpayers. It seems we’ve created an economy that depends on ever greater spending and borrowing by consumers. Specifically, if we don’t buy more and more houses and cars – and borrow the money to do so – the system collapses. And we’ve learned that greed and fraud seem to permeate Wall Street, that supposed bastion of capitalism at its finest – the latest instance being the 50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme of Bernard L. Madoff.

I wish I had a solution but I don’t. Pay me $50 or $60 million a year, though, and I’ll be glad to try. Or better yet, just hand over 700 billion and I’ll fix things – just trust me, don’t bother with the details and don't ask me to justify what I'm doing. Geez.

It seems like we are now living in an era reminiscent of the Vietnam War, when many of us came to question some of our deepest beliefs about America. It was a time when authorities lied to us, when those whom we had trusted as leaders were exposed as shams, and when the future was uncertain and various shades of bleak. There is a glimmer of hope as we begin a new presidency with a man who so far shows that at least he values experience and competence in those whom he is appointing to positions of power and influence, and is not afraid to give a voice to those with whom he disagrees. What a refreshing change.

1 comment:

Coleen Hanna said...

This was written in 2008 and after time still rings true as if it was just written. Has Obama delivered the goods? I think that is hard to answer given that Republicans and their adjuncts--tea party, Fox news, etc.--seem to actively discourage any progress if it means Obama could be re-elected.