Monday, December 22, 2008

Money For Nothing

$1.6 billion. Let's just think about that number for a moment. $1.6 billion. That's one thousand and six hundred million dollars. According to the AP, that is the total of the salary and bonuses that were given out to the top executives at the banks and financial institutions that were involved in the government bailout. I know that some financial institutions were in better shape than others, but I don't remember hearing about any that had a great year. Certainly if there were banks that had not invested heavily in derivatives, then they would not have been in line to get a government handout. Every single institution who accepted a government handout played fast and lose with the money that was entrusted to them by the public. They were reckless and greedy at best and immoral and criminal at worst. Somehow, even while pushing the international economic system to the brink of collapse, it turns out that the executives of those institutions were doing a stellar job.

Apparently there is no executive in the financial industry who feels the slightest bit responsible for squandering billions of dollars and for creating a situation that will force millions of people to default on their home loans. Do these people have a conscience? How do you suppose they feel as they spend this holiday season at one of their seven homes, which they flew to via private jet provided by the same companies that are receiving billions of dollars in aid from a public that can't even afford to pay their mortgages? Actually, I'm sure they feel pretty good. Isn't a free market system based on the principle of survival of the fittest? Therefore they must be the fittest people in America.

Clearly, the people upon whose blood, sweat and tears, the fortunes of the privileged few have been made, don't deserve to be helped the way the fittest have been helped. Why should the government help the least among us, when it can secure the fortunes of the ones with the most among us? Why would this administration, in particular, come up with solutions that might actually help someone other than the people who contributed heavily to their election? Why? Why you ask? I'll give you 1.6 billion reasons why! The ridiculous compensation of top executives cannot continue without a reasonably healthy middle class. Even out of their own greed-driven self-interest, Wall St. and the White House should realize that if the middle class collapses, their seemingly endless gravy train comes to a complete stop. Our economy, as we know it, comes to a complete halt and crumbles under the weight of the artificially inflated wealth at the top of the scale.

It does seem extremely shortsighted, for the government to bailout banks in order for them to be able to extend more credit to people who can't pay their bills now. How does that fix the problem? The financial institutions think it's a great idea because they get to buy other banks. The executives think it's great because they get huge bonuses and they still afford to keep their wives and their girlfriends happy. The Bush administration thinks it's great because they look like they get to look like the heroes on the white horse coming to save the day. And that is all great for them, but what about the tens of millions of people who actually make this economy work? Where is their bailout? Where are their bonuses? Where are their stock options? The bottom line is that when more than 1 in 10 people can't find a job (if you include temp workers (who are not included in the unemployment statistics), and those that have run out unemployment insurance and those that have simply given up trying to find work) and perhaps double that are at jobs that don't pay them enough to afford a reasonable standard of living, then you can see that we are living on borrowed time. If something isn't done soon, we will look back on the financial crisis of 2008 as the good old days.

There will be many parents who don't have the money to give Christmas gifts this year. There will be many a young child who will not get that bike or big wheel or barbie doll or Hannah Montana CD or MP3 player or computer that they wanted. But the adults can always explain to those disappointed children that they took part in real spirit of the season by giving to those in greater need. And as those kids curl up in their beds with a tear of disappointment rolling down their cheeks, perhaps they will find some comfort in knowing that there are 1.6 billion reasons why they shouldn't feel so bad.

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