After being laid up for a month with severe bursitis, I ventured on the golf course yesterday. As I wandered along taking gentle pokes at the ball (to protect the nerves in my lower back), I found myself stymied by one of those foursomes that keep hitting the ball sideways. There was a single ahead of me who was also being held up, and he suggested we play in together.
He was an amiable, even garrulous, young man, who was born and bred in Central Florida and had helped build the golf course we were playing on. Usually, golfers don’t talk politics, but this guy proved to be an exception. It turned out he had worked his way up from digging sand traps to owning his own irrigation company, and he had enjoyed momentary prosperity during the housing bubble. When the bubble burst and construction ceased, he was hit hard. And he didn’t mind letting me know who was to blame.
His dissertation on the subject lasted for the next seven holes, so I won’t attempt to reproduce it here, but one of his main complaints was against government interference in his life. He called it “social engineering.” It was the social engineers who had caused the housing crisis, he insisted, because they wanted to provide homes for black people who couldn’t afford them.
He cataloged the myriad mistakes made by past administrations, starting with Teddy Roosevelt’s introduction of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, which he explained changed the way in which federal senators were chosen. It was a familiar litany, and you can hear it on any of those “conservative” radio programs if you’re interested. Probably the best way to sum it up is to repeat the motto he said he was raised by: “Root hog, or die!”
Basically, he wanted to return to the days when Americans were free to fend for themselves, when they made their own stuff and asked nobody else in the world for anything. Left to him, for example, there would be no trade with China, no outsourcing to India, no deficit, no national debt… He realizes that would mean no Wal-Marts, too, and he is OK with that.
I didn’t try to argue with the man; I had a golf ball to attend to. But obviously his vision is a pipe dream. There is some logic to his complaints, but someone let that genie out of the bottle a long time ago, and there’s no way to put the pesky critter back in. The world is now too intertwined, and much too complex, for any nation to be self-sufficient. As long as giant corporations and international financiers pull the strings, the shelves at Wal-Mart will be stocked with goods made in China – or some other country where labor is cheaper. And Americans will buy the goods because they can’t afford not to.
In this complex world, hogs may root as hard as they can and still die – unless “social engineers” provide an environment in which the hogs can survive. The futility of “free-market” thinking is illustrated by the chaos it caused on Wall Street recently, and the continuing abuses committed by America’s financial giants.
With hundreds of billions of tax dollars distributed to these greedy money changers – and with executives at the financial institutions pocketing obscene bonuses – small businesses still can’t get the loans they need. There’s only one way to unplug the dam – government intervention.
So now, the Obama administration has stepped in, announcing a program to give community banks some of the bailout money originally destined for the big institutions, and ordering pay cuts and caps on benefits for top executives at companies that still owe money to the government.
According to today’s news reports, pay cuts will average 50 percent at seven companies including Citigroup and Bank of America. The cash portion of salaries for the 25 highest-paid employees will be slashed 90 percent. Some cash will be replaced by shares, and employees will be restricted from selling the shares immediately.
As you might expect, the administration’s crackdown has triggered a heated debate about the government’s interference in private industry. Cries of “socialism” are heard in the land. And I suppose you could call it that. But what other path is there? In a world dominated by insatiable financiers and unprincipled profiteers, who will protect the little hog rooting as hard as he can in the wilds of Central Florida?
Who if not the government?