A View From the Cheap Seats

January 22, 2009

Greed

Filed under: Humor,National,Politics — trzupek @ 12:17 pm

usacarnegie2EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JANUARY 21, 2009

By Rich Trzupek

The founders, when they laid the framework for this wonderful nation of ours, counted on people acting in their own self interest. They understood, of course, that would not always be a positive thing, but, in the whole, they expected that people acting in their own best interests would produce a nation that could grow, thrive and remain free.

Over the centuries this concept has grown increasingly less and less familiar to Americans. Self interest has become, for many of us, a sin – something to be ashamed of. It is often replaced by a harsher word, “greed”, in cases where it should not.

A miser, hording his wealth for wealth’s own sake, refusing to help out his family and friends is clearly greedy – selfish. But, what about a father working hard to get ahead, to do better for his family, who is kind to family and friends and who indulges in a few luxuries? Is that guy “greedy”? Or is he merely acting in his own self-interest?

The same goes for corporations. Some are stupid and greedy, like Enron, and that’s a very bad combination. But, as much as it is popular to complain about corporate greed, most companies aren’t Enron. They are in business to make money, sure. They better be.

Those of us who own stock or who have pension plans invested in the stark market are kind of counting on that. The recent market crash is ample demonstration of that fact. How many people do you know who have said “I guess I’ll be working till I’m 80 now?” When companies don’t make money, everybody loses.

The concept of corporate greed is such a part of our culture that it’s easy to point a figure at bankers and industrialists and merchants when things go wrong. There is some truth to that, of course. There is nothing ethical about a CEO taking a $25 million salary while his company goes in the dumper.

Nobody forced the boobs as Countrywide to make all those bad loans and nobody made banks like Citi and Bank of America invest in the Ponzi scheme. GM and Ford could have – should have – figured out that it would be better for them and their employees to stand up to the UAW once and a while.

Unbridled corporate greed, and the danger that it represents, is obvious to everyone. How is it then that those same people fail to recognize that the biggest, greediest and most powerful corporation in the world is not located in New York, or London, or Tokyo?

It is located in Washington D.C.

The federal government, as it exists today, is a giant, multi-tentacled organism that bears little resemblance to the unobtrusive republic that Washington, Jefferson and Madison envisioned. It reaches into every aspect of our lives and, no matter what party is in power, history tells us that it will continue to do so.

And make no mistake, government runs the way every other corporation runs: in its own self-interest. And self-interest, for most (but thankfully not all) men and women in government means protecting their positions and their power. This is particularly true the farther down the food chain one goes.

The Chief Executive of the government? Like the CEO of any company, Presidents sincerely want the nation to succeed; they want to see an America that is prosperous, safe and free. There is an element of self-interest in that statement of course. When America is (or is perceived to be) prosperous, safe and free, Presidents tend to get re-elected.

The interests of the nation as a whole and personal interests start to diverge when you step down a level to Congress. Some Senators and Representatives are true patriots, in that they want the best for their country. But many, to varying degrees, put the interests of their state or district ahead of the nation, in the expectation that doing so will get them re-elected too.

By the time you get down to the bureaucrats in the trenches, mindless, strict application of rules – often in defiance of all common sense – becomes the norm. This both protects their jobs and gives them a sense of power. It’s the DMV mentality and it’s everywhere, from the IRS, to the EPA, to OSHA to the rest of the alphabet soup that make up the working arms of the biggest corporation in the world.

This giant corporation has recently bequeathed over $600 billion to banks and businesses, and it’s getting ready to sign over perhaps $1 trillion more. I’m not an economist, but that sounds like real money to me.

Some have wondered if printing that much money signals the return of double-digit inflation. That is worrisome enough. But what worries me even more, as it worried Ayn Rand in the 20th century, is what exactly this mega-corporation will expect in return for its investment. Because there is one thing that everyone over the age of 10 knows for sure:

Nothing in this world is free.

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