Mar 19, 2009

A Lesson learned: Gift by example.

In the past dew days the country seems consumed with bonuses paid to about 400 executives from the derivitives trading division of AIG. American International Group is a large insurance company responsible in part for the current lack of trust on the financial markets. These bonuses, in excess of $150 million, have clearly sparked outrage from people making much less income than any of the recipients. 

Since early in 1981, leaders of our country have been facilitating the movement of large sums of cash from the poor and middle class to the rich. A combination of tax cuts, increased contracting for services, reduced oversight of markets, lessened regulatory requirements and relaxation of rules across the spectrum of governing groups has allowed the portion of our annual income that goes to the top 1% of earners to swell from a healthy seven percent to a jaw dropping 25% in 2007. Now the richest among us have raked in one half of all wealth and a quarter of our annual income. We get angry about bonuses paid to a small group of financial experts. Where was the outrage at the money wasted blowing up huge swaths of Iraq? Or the wasted billions in tax give-backs on capital gains? We weren't so mad at the money lost due to lax oversight of WorldCom, Enron, or HealthSouth.

Workers and their managers have created the wealthiest nation on earth and much like the slaves who moved the rock for the majestic buildings of Washington DC, we can marvel at its splendor, but we cannot really participate in the riches. Our country will not ultimately be judged by the gaudy fashions or ostentatious displays of consumption. Our democracy, our republic will be judged by how well we care for the least of our citizens. With homeless people crowding urban cores and foreclosures now hitting the unemployed as well as the greedy speculators workers should be angry but, not at AIG execs or the current government. We should be mad at the failed leadership of the past twentyeight years. The group of politicians and the thinkers who supported them and told us that government was the problem; that taxes were your money being taking out of your pocket; that the role of government is fighting expeditionary wars in far away lands. These people, with the best of intentions led us in the wrong direction and now I fear they are to proud to admit their mistake.

Government is good. We need a government to create a more perfect union, to build the commons, to establish justice and to ensure domestic tranquility.  Public education, public health, public markets, and public information are values to be lauded. Public science and public art create pride in peoples that transcends hard times. 

The only way to benefit from the crisis of trust in financial markets of late is to learn the lessons of evolution. Survival of the Fittest means which species works best together, not which species created the individual with the biggest house. If we learn the lesson of cooperation we can survive many perils now and in the future.

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