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CITIZEN STAKEHOLDERS—A VERY GOOD THING
October 11, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Wall Street crashed. Titans of Capitalism attired in custom tailored, light wool grey or navy shadow stripe three-button suits with notched lapels and four decorative buttons at the end of each sleeve wore shoes compatible in fashion and price and sat unrepentant before Congress. One and another listened, as salaries and bonuses and golden parachutes were laid bare in amounts that caused the tinker, the tailor and the candlestick maker to gasp with each revelation. The accumulation of such gain appeared excessive to all except the recipients.
Displaying neither bruise nor batter each explained that they fought valiantly to keep their particular ship aright and declared their recompense insufficient for their effort. However, before the week was over those responsible together with sycophantic politicians desperate to retain their luster tried to transfer blame for the worst market failure in history to the poor. To those encouraged by the Administration to become part of an “ownership” society and who bought houses they could not afford from lenders of first greed. Some bellicose politicians even had the gall to accuse the under capitalized homebuyer of being responsible for the entire mess. However, contrary to protestations, Capitalism, unrelenting and unregulated was on a rampage and could not be denied even by the most casual observer.
Mortgages made from financial road kill were packaged as gourmet beef and sold from one financial institution to the next. At the top of the financial food chain the goods were repackaged in gold wrappings and tied with purple ribbon and promptly insured against financial loss. But, when the customers from Europe and Asia pealed away the packaging they were overcome by the stench of rotting road kill. AIG, American International Group reputed to be the world’s largest insurer was unable to pay claims and bound for bankruptcy. The taxpaying public came to the rescue to the tune of 123 billion dollars, but even that was not enough.
The Bush Administration, complacent from years of unfaithful stewardship over financial markets, came forward with a plan to inject $700 billion into the financial markets to repel a market collapse and stave off an enduring worldwide depression. After politicians sputtered and Congress faltered, the package was finally approved, but the world teetered on the verge of financial collapse. The world scrambled looking for an answer, a template for recovery, and a pattern for success. Ahh, but we did not need look very far.
In 1994, Sweden, that small Scandinavian Social Democracy that some on the extreme political edge in our country confuse with some form of dictatorial or totalitarian government faced a similar problem. Without fanfare, the Swedish government injected money into the failing banks. In return, the people of Sweden acquired a proportional or a citizen’s “ownership” position in the banks. The government did not manage the banks, but as stakeholders citizen owners had automatic transparency. President Bush, and parenthetically the rest of the world, seeks that same automatic transparency. Ironically, George Bush may secure a favorable place in history by adopting a form of socialism that acts as a bulwark against the excesses of capitalism.
Regardless, our citizens are so much better off when they have an “ownership” position in their economic system whether it is in health care, transportation, energy or education. Even if we must adopt the philosophy that even a blind hog gets an acorn once in awhile, I feel compelled to applaud the President for his efforts. A spoonful of socialism helps the medicine go down.
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