In the midst of all this “Great Bailout of ’08” stuff, I have tried to keep myself contemplative and distant. Economic woes being what they are, they certainly touch on all households when they get to this magnitude but it seemed wise to keep a positive outlook on it1. Aside from the occasional link and a bit of humor, I’ve tried to keep quiet about this particular subject here in this particular venue. I haven’t said much mostly because it seemed gratuitous; I have a layperson’s grasp of the subject and I wasn’t going to add much to the dialogue that wasn’t already being covered in-depth much more frequently and by much more knowledgeable people. But as events have unfolded under the Capitol dome and as I’ve meditated more deeply on the conversations I’ve had, something has become startlingly clear to me.
First: As Americans, a sense of justice is deeply ingrained in our national cultural psyche. It is deeply important to us that the guilty are punished regardless of whether or not they have broken any laws. And that is why our collective stomach heaves at the prospect of $700B being shelled out “for our own good”2 without some assurance that the perpetrators of this heinous crime3 get what’s coming to them. As Americans, it offends us that something this awful can be allowed to occur without seeing to it that someone hangs for it. But at the same time (as a friend so eloquently put it):
I’m not happy about this, either, but at some point the need for responsible stewardship outweighs the desire to see CEOs get the shaft.
Or: we can swallow our pride, get over this “sense of justice” thing we hold so dear, and allow The Government to take some action that will preserve some semblance of economic vitality and our quality of life4.
But that’s not what really bugs us. And while that snapped into clarity for me, it was not that startling revelation.
Second: Related to our sense of justice (“first cousins”, if you will) is this important need to get value out of our expenditures. We want a return on our investment and when it comes to taxes, our outrage doesn’t come from the hit we take on Pay Day, it’s from the over-powering perception that the money is being pissed away by our elected officials on $600 toilet seats and $700B bailout packages.
Apocryphal or not, these stories are just icing on top of a cake that’s already baked with a crumbling transportation infrastructure, under-funded mass transit programs, a non-existent health care program, budget freezes on scientific research programs, and a long list of other failures that drain public trust in our Byzantine Leviathan of a government. Of course we cringe at the taxes we pay — the benefits are intangible abstractions when they exist at all.
As Congress moves forward with this plan, we get another collective stomach heave. It’s not enough that the original Section 8 is gone from the plan. We got some oversight (“I guess”) but it’s a pale imitation of the justice we really want. And while some action can be thought of as “a good thing”5, we start looking at the riders on this bill and shudder at their fringe nature (e.g., exemptions for arrows for child archers) or consider with disgust that we’re offering a hand out to industries that offer no productivity toward our long-term economic stability (e.g., Hollywood film production and automotive racing).
I was having a conversation with someone who pays more in Federal taxes than the 2006 median household income. Wow, sucky. But (as I said to this person) it isn’t sucky because of the hit he’s taking; it’s because at the end of the day you feel like you’re not getting anything for your outlay. I got some reluctant agreement to this point. If you felt like The Government was managing your money prudently, that you had good roads and scholarships for your kids and grant funding for science and universal health care and the best-maintained public park lands in the world, etc. then it wouldn’t feel quite so bad.
But instead you get expensive endless wars and corruption trials and bailout packages and budget cuts for anything important — “Death and Taxes“, basically.
So where do we land? And what do we do?
Short of an all out revolution6, there seems to be only one thing to do. Cliched as it may sound: get the fuck out there and vote. Seriously. There is an election coming up. Take a good long look at who is out there and who is going to do any good. In some cases, the sensible choice is obvious. There are a lot of incumbents that probably don’t deserve to get a trip back to D.C. or [fill in your state capital here]. Demand some accountability. Don’t be satisfied with Party Platform answers and talking points and all that other vague bullshit that we have come to accept as political double-speak. We deserve better than that and we should expect more from them. These people are supposed to represent you and your interests. Start thinking about Your Representation like you would think about your 401(k) adviser or your mutual fund’s manager or anyone else to whom you’ve ever turned over money. Take a good long look at that Death and Taxes poster. Maybe mail a copy to your Congressman. Don’t just ask for some transparency, demand it. Be a pain in the ass to his/her office.
Satisfying your sense of justice depends on it.
- E.g., how much will it really affect my day-to-day? [↩]
- I.e.,”for the economy”. [↩]
- Viz., Wall Street CEOs, hedge fund managers, etc. [↩]
- Viz., make at least a “best effort” at not letting things get worse. [↩]
- I.e., “responsible stewardship” and all that. [↩]
- Which, frankly, seems like it would be terribly destabilizing and counter-productive with respect to a long-term, sustainable solution. [↩]