Thursday, October 30, 2008

“Bailout Bandwagon – Chapter Two”


c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(10-08)




It was a lazy weekend in the Ice Household. Cats, dogs, and children were still slumbering as daylight peeked over the horizon. Liz, my wife, drifted through a personal dreamscape of fragrant flowers and weeping violins.
But I… was at the computer.

My eyes were sore from reading news stories. Though I repeated this tedious exercise several times, the result remained negative. Our national hope of a graceful arc from investment to prosperity had disappeared amid the banking crisis.

Yawning, Liz opened her eyes.

“Rodney, why are you awake so early?” she groaned. “It’s the weekend!”

My face reddened. Paperwork was strewn across the desk. “Sorry. I was restless…”

“Okay,” she answered, brushing stray curls out of her face. “About what?”

“Money. The future. Our net worth,” I confessed.

She smiled, sleepily. “So early in the morning?”

“Listen to this statement on the federal bailout of our banks by Rep. Steve LaTourette,” I said, while reading from the computer screen:

“It’s unbelievable that the Senate chose greed at a time of crisis. People in Mentor and in every community in my district are sitting at their kitchen tables wondering how they’re going to come up with $300 or $500 this month to save their home, and they’re scared to death to look at the 401Ks and wonder if they’re going to be able to send their kids to college. And we’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars for rum and toy arrow makers? It’s unbelievable. I know something had to be done. But we had an opportunity to do a better bill, and one that wasn’t so costly to taxpayers. It didn’t have to be my way or the highway because there were many good ideas out there, but no alternatives were allowed. We had an opportunity to pass a clean bill that Americans could be proud of and we didn’t.”

My wife gasped. “Well said. But… how does that really affect us?”

“Just imagine one of those bankers coming to the Ice General Store for food,” I said. “He buys a case of wine, five pounds of gourmet cheese, and a dozen steaks. The transaction is based on mutual trust because we’ve done business for many years. But after the sale, his case of wine yields only seven bottles, not twelve. The cheese is actually processed spread made from vegetable oil. And the steaks are donkey fillets. What would you expect?”

Her eyebrows raised. “Well, I’d expect him to lodge a protest with you - the store manager!”

“On what grounds?” I said emphatically.

My wife grew agitated. “Well, because he was cheated! What you sold him didn’t match the purchase he desired.”

“Even if my store provided the consumables in good faith?” I said. “Even if there was every intention to completely serve his needs?”

Her eyes narrowed. “You’ve got to play fair with customers. Each individual deserves to get what they paid for.”

“Hmmm,” I pondered. “Yet when the banker delivers poor value for money… or no value… we simply cover his bad bets with another loan.”

She snorted. “Can’t I have coffee before you start talking politics?”

I continued with a grin. “We would be expected to ride out such a small-business calamity. That’s capitalism in a nutshell. But when the same thing happens on a larger scale, we are urged to support a government bailout. So much for free market principles. Does that make sense to you?”

She shook her head. “What makes sense is… coffee!”

“Okay,” I relented.

We adjourned to the kitchen.

While fresh Java percolated, Liz snuggled into her pink bathrobe. As we sat at the table, I revived our conversation.

“Think about it,” I said. “Last week, we drove to Seneca Allegany Casino in New York State. We invested forty dollars, and came home with one hundred and thirty-nine. In the process, both of us were entertained for an evening. And I got newspaper material for the future.”

My wife rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes…say, do we have any cookies?”

I rummaged through the cupboards for a package of Double-Stuffed Oreos. “That’s a better return than we’ve gotten lately from our national financial system.”

She brushed cookie crumbs off of her bathrobe. “Don’t tell me… you’re going to invest our life’s savings in a casino?”

“Would that really be so crazy?” I said.

Silence filled the room. She was not amused.

“Think about it,” I continued. “No politician would suggest betting taxpayer money at the blackjack tables, or the roulette wheel. Yet our elected officials handed a massive check to the banking industry, despite the fact that the same group of people had just ‘flushed’ billions of our dollars without a nanosecond of remorse. Doesn’t that qualify as an act of insanity?”

Liz turned serious. “I admit, it is very frustrating.”

I turned back to the computer. “Remember the comments by Steve LaTourette? Dennis Kucinich, his colleague in the House of Representatives, also opposed the bill.” Again, I read out loud:

“Some people will ask of this Congress, what were we thinking? Why did we give (a) $700 billion bailout to Wall Street without fixing what caused the problem in the first place? Why did we rig the free markets for security fraudsters? Why didn’t we explore alternatives to let Wall Street solve its own problems? Why didn’t we have (the) money save millions of homeowners, create millions of jobs, and a green economy? Why didn’t we stop the speculators? Why wasn’t there accountability? Why didn’t we take time to make an intelligent decision?”

“More strong talk!” she observed. “Still… what else could they do?”

“Perhaps, but where’s the outrage?” I laughed. “Both major parties supported this deal. Neither is free of guilt. Only a handful of rebellious spirits like these opposed the plan.”

My wife shrugged her shoulders. “So, what’s the answer, Mr. Wordsmith?”

I took a deep breath for emphasis. “Go back to the hypothetical example of a banker shopping at our store. Suppose it became apparent that he’d repeatedly been short-changed as a patron – that his bad visit wasn’t an isolated event. What would happen?”

She raised a finger. “At the very least, legal action would result. A business can’t operate without honesty toward its customers.”

My voice hushed to a whisper. “What if I claimed to be a victim of circumstance? What if I professed having genuine respect for my shoppers?”

“You’d still have to accept responsibility,” she chirped. “There is an implied promise of fairness that goes along with doing business in America.”

“Okay,” I cheered. “Hopefully, that is true. So… have you heard anything like that out of Washington? Any promise of a full-scale investigation? Or punishment for wrongdoing? Or… any guarantee that this bailout will actually work?”

“Well… not quite,” she said. “Just some partisan bickering and hand-wringing.”

I bowed my head. “Well then, are you ready to hit the road?”

“The road?” she said with puzzlement. “Why?”

“It’s time to get the rest of our money to a casino before it disappears,” I smirked. “So we can make a safe investment, for a change!”

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