Saturday, February 28, 2009

Personal Responsibility in America

In a surprise reaffirmation of the fundamental power of the American economy, the Dow Jones average remained above 7,000 at the end of the week.

True, naysayers will point to various bits of contradictory evidence:
  • Washington's continuing efforts to pass billions to the rich;
  • the endless outpouring of new evidence of the breadth of the criminal behavior throughout society that created the financial crisis in the first place;
  • the continuing failure of the government to punish those responsible for this criminal behavior;
  • the careful avoidance by the elite of such embarrassing issues as the morality of starting wars of aggression on false pretenses, attacking cities, violating constitutional guarantees of human rights, or advocating "preventive" wars;
  • Obama's recent reaffirmation that he will not give up the war policy.
But what does such negativism mean in comparison with the market's ability to stay above the critical psychological threshold of 7,000? Once again, the rich have demonstrated their faith in the system. And why not? Isn't that system rewarding them with golden parachutes, bailouts,* new opportunities for war profiteering, and appointments as Official Foxes to guard the nation's financial hen house? One thing you have to admit: no matter how tough the times, this country takes care of its rich.
*The AIG story, of which Chapter II is just beginning, is a prime example. Too big to fail? AIG, like Brezhnev's Russia and Bush-Cheney's Administration, has already failed. Each of these organizations failed to do the job it existed to do. Each proved to be irresponsible to the point of provoking snide "ashheap of history" remarks. If AIG has employees processing paper in a way that is invaluable, so be it: keep the institution functioning (if we may apply that term to AIG in its present condition) under the following terms:

1) nationalize it;
2) remove all levels of management immediately;
3) starting at the top, conduct criminal investigations;
4) assess blame with extreme severity and maximum publicity;
4) move things along, announce that in lieu of possible jail, the government will accept a public apology, complete honesty in providing evidence, and the loss of all personal profits made during the AIG manager's time in the company in return for freedom and, perhaps, a job at a maximum annual income equal to the average income of an American worker.

In other words, taking responsibility and cleaning up are key, not punishment. No one starves, and only the minimum necessary amount of jail time is assessed (i.e., only for the recalcitrant). Settle things as fast as possible, with the following caveat: the issue of moral hazard must be addressed. No American must be left with any suspicions that CEO financial crime is rewarded.

Once AIG has been dealt with, then "We, the People" can turn to the far larger issue of moral hazard among politicians who profit personally from starting wars. The point is really very simple, right down there at the Sunday School level: either we have a system that expects its participants to take responsibility for their behavior or we do not.

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