10 November 2008

Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal by Dr. Mark T. Mitchell

Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal by Dr. Mark T. Mitchell

I recently came across this article on Center for a Just Society. In the days leading up to the passage of the emergency bailout package, politicians from both parties warned everyone that what was at stake was our American way of life, and without massive intervention the country and perhaps the world was heading toward an "economic apocalypse."

The author states,

I must admit that I am skeptical when powerful folks ask for more power. I'm even more skeptical when they do so using fear as a motivation.
What follows in the article is a series of questions about the ethical issues related to the current financial crisis. Some of the questions are more pertinent than others, but I think that we need to carefully think about them. For example, here is the first question:
1. Is it a fundamental problem when a corporation becomes so big that its failure threatens to bring down the national economy? Could it be that scale matters? Can institutions become so large that their potential harm outweighs their actual (or occasional) good? If yes, then are there measures that could help ensure that economic power is decentralized and therefore less dangerous?
An example of this is, according to a CNN report, if the Big Three carmakers were to cut U.S. operations by 50%, 2.5 million jobs could be lost in 2009.

I think the premise of this question is valid, and even necessary to ask. Many people believe that the standard of living is a reward for living in the U.S., or at the least a quid pro quo relationship.

2. The bailout was ostensibly necessary to protect our "American way of life." That such a reason was offered without justification indicates that our way of life is an axiom that must be assumed but never questioned. But is it too much to consider, if only for a moment, that perhaps our way of life is precisely the problem? Of course, a way of life is a complex thing, but insofar as the "American way of life" consists in living beyond our means, it is unsustainable. To the extent that consumer credit is at an all-time high and personal savings is at an all-time low, the "American way of life" is irresponsible.
My answer as to whether or not this is part of the cause of the financial crisis we are currently experiencing is an unequivocal YES.

The next two questions are questions we do need to answer:

3. Public debt mirrors private debt. Both publicly and privately, we have become a nation that demands immediate gratification. Is such a national disposition healthy? Psychologists tell us that adults are capable of delaying their gratification. If so, then publicly and privately we are, according to this measurement, behaving like a nation of children.

10. In Greek drama hubris plays a key role. This is the fatal pride that brings down even the greatest of men. Is hubris at the heart of this crisis? Hubris is the failure to acknowledge limits. It is the failure to live within the bounds proper to human beings. Ultimately, it is a failure of virtue. When we delay payments rather than our gratification, we reveal our ill-formed character. When our demands for more things are limited only by our insatiable imaginations, vice is running the show. When our leaders tell us that they can solve any crisis if only we grant them more power, hubris has taken center stage.

From my seat in the upper bleachers, it seems that many other people are beginning to be aware of these questions as well, which may help to explain why Obama won and not McCain. McCain campaigned as if there were no problems, while Obama said we need change. If we ask Ronald Reagan's question, are you better off than you were four years ago, then we know what the answer will be.

As I have said before, it is not that the question of abortion and the like are not important, it is that there are other questions out there that people see as important, and also need to be answered.

A person's stance on an issue may not qualify them to run or public office, but it does seem to be able to disqualify them.

Take a look at the article and the questions.

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