No! Don’t Do It!!

It’s like watching a horror movie. No! Don’t do it!! Don’t open the door! You cover your eyes because you don’t want to look. You can’t believe they’re going to do it. But you know they are. Even though it makes no sense, and it’s obvious to everybody watching that it’s the absolute worst thing they could possibly do. They’re going to do it anyway. Why? In a horror movie it’s because it’s in the script. And ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s all make believe.

But this isn’t a horror movie. It’s real. And it affects every one of us, but we’re powerless to stop it. All we can do is write our Congressmen and say No! Don’t do it!! Don’t give them the bailout money! And that does about as much good as shouting at the movie screen Don’t open the door! Because you know they’re going to do it anyway.

First they said they needed $700 billion to bail out troubled financial institutions. Letters to Congressmen ran 20-1 against the bailout and, last September, Congress voted against the bailout bill. But they kept sweetening the pot with a little pork here and a little pork there until everybody in Congress had enough pork in the bill to lure them into voting for the bailout, in massive disregard of the indignant outcries of the people who elected them.

Then Bernanke and Paulson turned around and said, You know what? We’re not going to use this bailout money the way we originally said we would, because that would have been a really stupid thing to do. (Really? When did you figure that out, Mr. Genius? That’s what all the people writing to their Congressmen were screaming all along.) But, even after acknowledging the plan was hopeless, instead of rescinding the bailout, they decided to spend it on something else. After all, they already had the money; you could hardly expect them to just give it back! — Not that they actually do have the money. But that’s never stopped them from spending it before. Why should it stop them now? — So they voted to spend all this money they don’t actually have, and then decided not to spend it for the purpose for which they swore they needed it. So now they’re going to spend it on something else. They haven’t yet told us what, exactly. Why not? Because they don’t know. They don’t have a plan. But spend it they will.

They’ve put out the word that there’s $700 billion of free money on the table, and they’re going to give it all away. To whom are they going to give it? The criterion to qualify seems to be incompetence. But not just any incompetence, only massive incompetence will do. To qualify for some of this free money, a corporation or institution has to prove they’ve mismanaged their finances on such an unprecedented scale that they’re billions of dollars in the hole and have absolutely no way out, short of a federal bailout.

The three automakers deserve to go out of business. GM and Toyota each sold 9.37 million vehicles last year. Toyota made $17.1 billion. GM lost $38.7 billion. What more needs to be said? But, instead of letting economic Darwinism take it’s course, the government wants to compel the taxpayers to throw our hard-earned money at them so they can flush our money down the drain after their own. This is madness. Just say No! Don’t do it!! Don’t open the door!

And, of course, now everybody else is lining up for bailouts as well. Even city and state governments are getting in line. The economy is bad. An awful lot of businesses are losing money or going bankrupt, and local governments are losing tax revenue because their tax base is losing their jobs. So why not just stick a hose directly into the pockets of all the taxpayers in the country, and siphon out more and more money until the well runs dry, to keep businesses afloat that are unable to make a profit on their own merits? Surely, every business deserves to make money, whether or not they provide good value to their customers and investors. Free market be damned! Move over Rover, let Government take over. It seems the government is determined to prove they can waste even more money faster than the failures they’re bailing out.

Which brings us back to the horror movie. Everybody in the audience can see that disaster lurks behind that door. But the protagonist is about to open it. We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats, gripping the handrests, holding our breaths, and whispering through gritted teeth – No! He hesitates with his hand on the knob. Don’t do it!! (But we know he will.) He twists the knob. Don’t open the door! And then he does ———————–

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Depression-Era Values and a New New Deal

There’s not a lot of nostalgia for the Great Depression but, if we’d retained some of the values from that era, we might not be careening toward another one now. The Great Depression followed hard on the Roaring Twenties. The economy went from boom to bust. We look back on the twenties as a frivolous period of flappers and speakeasies, exuberant spending, loose moral standards, and widespread disregard for the law. There were those who condemned the gleeful irresponsibility that became emblematic of that era, but the young and “young at heart” scorned their dourness and ridiculed their dire predictions.

Then came the crash, followed by acute economic contraction. Exuberant spending was replaced by extruding the maximum value from every penny surrendered, cutting back to the essentials, and then learning that not all “essentials” were essential. Every tiny luxury, like a bar of soap or a candy bar, was appreciated more than the most extravagant bauble of the preceding era.

Instead of flinging away money for a night on the town, people found ways to entertain themselves that cost nothing, like huddling around the woodstove telling stories or playing games. People spent more time with their families, even if it wasn’t by choice. But the hardships they endured together forged strong familial bonds. Neighbors rallied to support one another, because nobody knew when they might be the one in need. Those who could get work worked hard, knowing they had to provide superior value to keep their job in a time when jobs were scarce. And they took pride in that fact, and honed their skills to ensure continued employment.

I’m not romanticizing the Great Depression. It was a miserable time. Many who would have been glad to work couldn’t get jobs. Many suffered tremendous losses through no fault of their own. Some even died from their hardships. But the vast majority managed to survive and became stronger, wiser, and more resilient, not in spite of, but because of, the adversities they endured.

Some say the New Deal was instrumental in ending the Great Depression, with its social welfare programs, agricultural subsidies that paid farmers not to grow crops, and the replacement of the gold standard with a fiat currency that has no intrinsic value. But there’s widespread disagreement among economists as to whether the New Deal helped or prolonged the Depression. The only thing we can say for certain is that it took World War II to end it.

WWII bolstered the economy, creating employment for everybody from soldiers to factory workers, and the surge in patriotism helped revive the spirit of the nation. Luxuries were still rare, but people felt they were sacrificing for a reason, and that gave them a sense of purpose and pride. After the war, the lessons instilled by years of austerity laid the foundation for a new era of prosperity.

The programs instituted by FDR as part of the New Deal were intended to be short-term recovery programs. Unfortunately, once a bureaucracy is established, it takes on a life of its own. It’s nearly impossible to dismantle government programs once they get entrenched. Many people were deeply ashamed to go on the dole, and the habits they acquired of continual striving to rise above that humiliation often led to great success later on. For the most part, they passed that fierce sense of self-reliance on to their children.

But others, too exhausted for the struggle, found it easier to sink into the trough that was offered them and accept government handouts as their lot in life. The social programs were seen to be a particular boon to the disadvantaged, but those are the ones for whom it proved most detrimental in the end. Those who would have had to work even harder to overcome the greater obstacles before them had less incentive to undertake that Herculean task when given the option to just accept what the government offered as compensation for their disadvantaged circumstances. And many of them passed that embittered sense of perpetual entitlement on to their children. To this day, that sad legacy of the New Deal has kept generation after generation mired in government-subsidized poverty.

Ironically, the descendants of those who achieved success in the post war boom, after only a couple of generations, were reduced to complacency by the very affluence their parents and grandparents struggled so hard to provide for them. The baby boomers had it easy, compared to their parents’ generation, and the generation that followed was spoiled by the expectation that everything in life should come easily. If they couldn’t afford something they wanted, they simply said “Charge it,” and it was theirs. They developed their own sense of entitlement; only instead of feeling entitled to mere subsistence, they felt entitled to a big house and a constant stream of little luxuries to gratify their every whim.

Now, the good times are over. A new depression may well be on the way. Maybe it will bring back some of those old-fashioned Depression-era values that served our parents and grandparents so well. Unfortunately, with our new president-elect, I foresee another New Deal on the horizon as well, even bigger and “better” than the last one…

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Why is Our Nation So Obsessed with Race?

This morning, I read an article in the Portland Business Journal about the Oregon Department of Transportation refining their quota system to be more specific about which minorities will get what percentage of contracts. This afternoon, a friend told me her 15 year-old daughter was accosted at school by a student who called her the n-word and then snarled “White power!”

The ODOT quota refinement is the epitome of bureaucratic stupidity. The incident at school is an example of ugly, mindless malice. But there’s a common thread between them:  Basing judgments on race rather than individual merits.

The state of Oregon did a “disparity study” and determined that, even with a mandate that 14% of ODOT contracts go to minority-owned businesses, specific minorities are underrepresented. Native-American contractors got 8.2% of ODOT contracts and Hispanic-American contractors got 6%, while African-American and Asian-American contractors got less than 1% combined. Over a third of the businesses qualifying for the state’s “disadvantaged business enterprise” certification are African-American, and almost a quarter are Asian-American.

So the state decided to rectify the imbalance by requiring at least 6% of new contracts to be awarded to African-American or Asian-American contractors. But now Native-American and Hispanic-American contractors are claiming discrimination because they foresee losing contracts to African-American and Asian-American contractors to meet the new micro-quota.

Ordinarily, contracts are awarded based on bids and qualifications. If certain contractors aren’t getting contracts, presumably, either their bids are too high or they’re not as well-qualified. On the other hand, if the reason they aren’t getting contracts is because of corruption or bigotry on the part of those awarding the contracts, then those individuals shouldn’t be in charge of awarding contracts. If that’s the case, changing the quota requirements won’t address the real issue. But, if that’s not the issue, then the reallocation of quotas is even more senseless, and can only result in either costing the taxpayers more or in hiring less qualified contractors.

If the purpose of quotas is to ensure equal opportunity, regardless of race, sex, or whatever, why not award the contract to the most qualified contractor with the lowest bid, regardless of race, sex, or whatever? The imposition of quotas inherently creates a double — or, in this case, triple — standard, pitting African/Asian-Americans against Hispanic/Native-Americans. And, after requiring 6% of contracts to go to either African-American or Asian-American contractors, what happens if Asian-Americans end up with 5% of the contracts and African-Americans with only 1%? Will they then mandate that African-Americans must get 3%?

Perhaps the only way to make this work would be to allocate contracts based strictly on demographics. If exactly 5% of the population is of whatever ethnic derivation, then exactly 5% of the contracts would be set aside for contractors of that ethnicity. And, of course, within each ethnic allocation, half of the contracts would have to go to Female-Americans, lest we be condemned as sexist…

On the other side of the coin from senseless bureaucracies awarding contracts based on race rather than qualifications, we have senseless individuals, viciously spewing invective at individuals they don’t even know, feeling justified because they’re a different race.

My friend’s daughter is a shy, quiet girl in her freshman year of high school in a small city in rural Oregon. There aren’t many black families here, so she attracts attention just by existing. 15 is a difficult age for girls, with all the changes they’re going through, and even a girl who blends right in can feel painfully self-conscious at times. For a shy girl, who shuns being the center of attention, it must be tough to be the only black kid in class, even on a good day.

This is a family that believes in personal responsibility, and would never seek or expect special consideration based on race. So, after the incident occurred, their daughter refused to report it. It was humiliating enough to be singled out for denigration and intimidation because of her race, without complaining to the authorities like a victim demanding redress. That isn’t the way she was raised. But, when her mother recounted the incident to me, recalling the pain in her daughter’s eyes made her break down and cry. And she’s a pretty tough woman.

Kids will be cruel and call other kids names. That’s part of life. But it’s a hard lesson to learn for a 15 year-old girl that she has classmates who feel a blind hatred toward her, and cannot even see her for the person she is, just because of her race.

Nobody’s entitled to special benefits because of their race. Nobody should be subjected to malicious harassment because of their race. Each person should be judged on their own character and their individual merits. Why is that so hard for so many people to grasp?

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