Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Road of Excesses Paved With Bad Intentions

Ford Motor Company founder, Henry Ford, once said, “You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Declining government assistance and accepting internal accountability, Ford thwarted a corporate collapse of its business ventures through in-house restructuring and refinancing. Consumers will no doubt remember, or at least consider, that when deciding to buy a new car, with Ford’s reputation intact for what it did that competitors like General Motors and Chrysler did not. No company in the world can buy that sort of public relations marketing.

Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, on the other hand, have pulled off an audacious heist of taxpayer money. After soliciting, and receiving, a combined $155 billion in government bailout money, the companies continued their frivolous spending. Despite supposed near-catastrophic financial straits, the three managed nonetheless to shell out a combined $606 million, of which Citigroup spent the majority at a cost of $400 million, for the naming rights at three sports arenas. Certainly, hardly the indispensable, curative investment needed for curbing the economic strife of the financial sector. Even more, Citigroup, citing contracts already in place, was set to purchase a new corporate jet for $50 million, no doubt for ferrying executives to their now-cancelled Bahamas convention in June. Only the combined outrage of politicians, the media and taxpayers – possibly the first time in history all three aligned in unison – ostensibly forced the cancellation of the purchase.

The precedents and examples set by these corporations, who by no means are alone in their impudence, have only served to entice entities of all ilks – from lobbyist groups like ACORN to the porn industry – to coolly seek their handout from the government. As Davy Crockett, the legendary 19th century frontiersman and politician, so eloquently stated, "We have rights, as individuals, to give as much of our own money as we please to charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of public money." Unfortunately, that is exactly what is occurring under any bailout plans - government charity taken from the public coffers.

To make matters worse, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had major tax issues, a problem which claimed the nomination of Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Predictably, the errors were not corrected until they came to light during the nomination process. Geithner took ineligible business and charity-related deductions, expensed personal use items and failed to pay self-employment taxes totaling $34,000 between 2001 and 2005. Yet, as a key member of the economic brain trust, he is the person charged with administering and overhauling the troubled economy – no less paid for by the average American taxpayer. Or at least, the ones who pay into the system. Like the most expensive inauguration in Presidential history, it sends the wrong message at a time when Americans are looking to its leaders for fiscal responsibility with taxpayer money and alleviating the country’s economic ills.

Accordingly, rather than a bailout of financially mismanaged industries and undeserving entities, a more agreeable solution would be the division of the proposed stimulus (House bill - $820 billion; Senate bill - $838 billion) among every American taxpayer – the ones supplying a large chunk of the economic recovery package, after all – who no less would directly contribute to those very industries through spending. With an estimated population near 306 million, with just under half comprising the taxpayers, every eligible citizen (i.e. John Q. Taxpayer) could then receive roughly $6,000. Though outwardly insignificant compared to months of losses in wages and investments, that money could nonetheless be used by burdened Americans to at least pay their mortgage, ease their debt and/or spend on items from groceries to cars. Thus, economic recovery would be driven from the bottom on up, rather than from the top on down. Additionally, it would buy time, literally, for government and industry to affect changes, respectively, to fiscal policy and business models – not to mention establishing proper oversight for implementation and compliance – without haphazardly instituting such in a symbolic rush to satisfy campaign promises.

With the understood reality that we live in a capitalistic society and a global world market, that scenario, however, would not be a win-win for business. In spite of a prospective increase in consumer spending if consumers, rather than producers, were bailed out, business, from its perspective, would not thrive in the way that best benefits their bottom line. Forget the fact that questionable practices and irresponsible dealings were the majority cause of the economic troubles in the first place. For instance, if customers were able to wipe out their debt due to government intervention, banks and credit companies could not continue to exploit and reap from consumers’ debt spending in the form of exorbitant fees and interest rates. As such, those truly in need of an economic bailout – which would not include high-priced executives seeking bonuses – are not the ones who will receive it. Thus, the cycle will perpetuate that continually puts Wall Street ahead of Main Street, and maintain the status quo of economic enslavement for the most impoverished.

So much for the little guy filled with the promise of “hope and change”…

©2009 Steve Sagarra