24 November 2008

On Bailouts and Priorities

Predictably, once the federal government agreed to cough up some 700 billion dollars to bail out Wall Street, it wasn’t long before the next failing industry came crawling. This time, it’s the auto makers. I wonder who will be next. Interesting isn’t it, how big business wants government out of their hair until they hit rock bottom. Now they're first in line for a handout. Just think of it as Medicaid for the white-collar set. "Welfare Queens" revisited.

Certainly, there are arguments to be made whether these bailouts are necessary to salvage our economy. I’m not smart enough to figure out that one. But what I do know is that the feds don’t have billions of dollars to spare. That’s debt my children and their children will inherit and be repaying to China the rest of their lives.

But I’m thinking, if money really is no object then who else deserves a bailout? If the government can arbitrarily decide that some problems are so big that we can just write imaginary zeroes onto imaginary checks and that the ends justify the means, that opens up a world of opportunity for a do-gooder like me.

If that’s the standard, why can’t we just write a check with a bunch of zeroes and bail out all the overcrowded, underfunded, poor performing public schools in America? If that’s the standard, it seems unconscionable that there’s even one elderly person in America who can’t afford her medication. If that’s the standard, why are their hurricane victims in New Orleans still waiting for federal help to rebuild their homes and lives?

On top of the bailouts, Uncle Sam finds 10 billion dollars each month somewhere to destroy and rebuild a foreign country. Again, this may or may not be justified. Only history will tell. But if we can use Monopoly money for war, your telling me we can’t find the money we need somewhere to fund a high quality early childhood education system in this country (which every economist in America tells us is critical to developing economic viability in the future, by the way)?

If the NIH and all the major university hospitals in the country had a blank check to fund their research, how quickly do you think we could find a cure for cancer?

I’m just not sure I fully understand the definition we’re using for “crisis.” Isn’t a War on Poverty as important as a War on Terror?

I guarantee you that if money were no obstacle, I could sit down with a handful of my colleagues and we could figure how to dramatically reduce homelessness, juvenile delinquency, high school drop-out, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and any number of other crises facing our country which many of us believe are big ones.

You see, there’s no shortage of bright ideas, effective interventions, proven methods and workable solutions to the social problems we’re faced with today. It’s always about resources. And resources always come down to priorities. I just happen to believe that we need to do a lot of soul-searching about our priorities.

Here’s the point that a few corporate CEO’s may finally understand now: nobody wants government in their lives. But when your house is floating belly up in the Pontchartrain or you don’t have a thing to feed your hungry children or your multi-billion dollar company is going down the drain, a little government intervention doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

3 comments:

carissa said...

You are freakin' brilliant! I LOVE your blog-thoughts!

Incidentally, if you end up getting the ear of the big boys with the checkbooks of monopoly money in Washington, would you mind putting in a plug for Carissa in NC? I think that 6 zeros would suffice to get me out of debt, get me a safe car and a safe rig (for skydiving). Don't worry, I'll definitely give 20% of that away- 10% to God/my church and 10% to the wonderful causes you listed!

Peace!

Ashley Sue Allen said...

Why aren't you in a political office, Stephen? I wish I could here ONE politician articulate this situation as you have. Crisis? Crisis, they say. And I'm not one to dispute that... but just as you said and I haven't known myself how to explain, haven't we been in a deep trench of our own crises for years that we (or the politicians we elect) choose to ignore? Why the arbitrary choice to help this? If the war isn't for oil, why haven't we "saved" North Korea? Darfur? Tibet? And the list, and questions, go on...

Ivan said...

Amen, brotha!