Dear P-E Obama:Bailout Quids pro Quo


There is no limit yet speculated exactly how many trillions of dollars will bleed out of the US economy before things settle on the completely new, nobody-knows-what-it-will-look-like-yet, but we’ll call it “normal”. I’ve always been poor at math, but there is a certain elegance about powers of ten that seduces me.  Let’s play with big numbers here. Everyone else is doing it.

There are in the US slightly over 300 million of us reported, and that’s around one-twelfth of Earth total.  A much smaller proportion of that number owns or controls a vast proportion of the national wealth. A mere handful of that lot, comparatively, pull the strings that convince everyone our national Punch and Judy are lly dancing and not writhing in tortured pain. The cost of this recession, only recently accepted as such by those who brought it down on us, can’t yet, and will maybe never, be calculated. Bailouts alone, however, have already danced into the balcony, near the seats marked  3 trillion dollars.

A thousand thousands equals a million. A thousand millions equals a billion. A thousand billions equals a trillion. Three trillion dollars divided by 300 million people should tell us the share each and every one of us Americans own; every old fart, toddler, paraplegic, axe-murderer, fund manager, stock broker, single mom, milk route dude, Plumber Joe and absentee governor of Alaska, will shoulder this share of the burden if it is distributed evenly. This is where the going gets tough for me, but it seems like the answer is basically 3 into 30,000, no? It certainly looks to me like (and I confess I could be off by a zero or two either way-it’s that bad) my share of this program to save the banker’s, insurocrat’s, and assorted tycoon’s asses country will be tuh-tuh-tuh-TEN GRAND!!!!

Okay, okay….I’m calm now. Let’s look at some additional facts before we start divvying up the contents of the medicine cabinet and Kevorking all over the place. We could, as a citizenry, do what the Chinese did when they were saddled with an upper class that were only in civil life for themselves.  We could have a great cultural revolution and make the wealthy and ruling classes carry buckets of night soil to the paddy, where  the aristocrats and commissars would turn it into food. Don’t try to tell me you don’t find the idea tempting when you learn the meaning of phrases like “golden parachute”. The ruling class, those who own the stuff and wield the power don’t just step up and volunteer to back away; at least very few have ever done so. Ted Turner gave the UN a billion dollars once, earning for himself our undiluted esteem, and there is  a thing called “philanthropy” practiced by a few, but most estate managers spell it “tax loophole”, and so it is not a free pass into Heaven.

What about the little guy out here on that Main Street that, to your credit, you mention in every speech. I don’t want sound selfish and say “myself”, but yeah, me. Remember, the guy who, with every man, woman and child in a family of very few millionaires, will be adding ten grand to his admittedly not very generous contribution contribution of taxes?  How should I take it? How should any of us take it? As it happens,  I have an idea.

Don’t worry, this is not a call for revolution. That would mean bloodshed, and except for the militarists, we’ve been around long enough that we should be able to demonstrate that we’re bigger and better than that. I know, I know; I’m tripping, but let’s save the revolution for last, anyway, after I’m dead of old age, say. I’m ready to take it like a grownup and accept the personal obligation to cough up ten G’s (which I don’t, by the way, have at the moment), if our leaders and all those other people on my earlier list are willing to do the same. That’s the quo. Let’s talk about the quid.

First, though, let’s talk about our whole perspective on money and government and the cost of civil society and social contracts and crime and infrastructure and environmental quality and all that other stuff that competes with the bankrupters and Big Shots for our money. Take prisons, for example. They are  expensive to build and maintain, so when a new one is proposed, many taxpayers balk at the cost. They say, “I’m not a criminal. Why should I have to pay a criminals’ room and board?” It’s a fair question, but it rolls with a narrow field of vision.

Each (mostly unlucky) felon behind bars maybe feels a little smug these days. He’s going to get a pass on the ten grand for the bailouts; he’s locked up because he couldn’t get a bailout. Imprisoning people is one of the more profitable corporate enterprises in America today. It’s a growth industry, and legislators, political leaders, lawyers, equipment makers and suppliers, weapons makers dealers and other such civic-minder individuals are invested in that industry. Dick Cheney is a case in point, with about 80 million dollars invested with Vanguard, which in turn is linked closely to the private prison industry. It pays to lock people up, and the US has more people locked up than any other country.

It would cost less to let all but the violent offenders out of the prison,  close them down, and pay them to stay out of trouble. Most were stoned and needing money when they did their crime. It would cost the public less than half what is paid to confine further warp them, and we’d be able to get that ten grand for banker welfare off the top. Every man, woman and juvenile freed could joing the rest of us in supporting the rich guys who ran America’s economic ship aground. The ex-cons  would have a bigger annual income to live on, at half the cost of their incarceration, than do most of us who are lucky enough not to get caught.

Here’s the punchline. I want something in exchange for chipping in my ten thousand dollars.  I shouldn’t be expected to just ante up with no discussion of this important fact. Saving my country has a nice ring to it, and as my British niece might say, “In for a penny, in for a pound”. It’s just that, for a long time now, I’ve had the feeling that my country is, more and more, being rigged by mega-corporations to fleece me, ruin my surroundings, wreck my health, outrage my moral sensibilities and generally refuse me transparent views of their accountability in the process.

This is what I want. I want paper. I want ten thousand dollars worth of stock, or T-bills, or securities or some evidence of an ownership position in one or more of these outfits being saved with my ten grand. To paraphrase a motion picture president, “Ah wanna chip in the big game!”.

Every American should be demanding this in return for the sacrifice we are being asked to make on faith in the people whose betrayal of our trust brought us to this point. I am ready to accept the failure of every multi-national corporation on this dying planet if moves are not made by our leaders to give each and every one of us the recognition that only one thing can prove, and that is a capital ownership position in our country. Even the poorest citizen deserves compensation for his or her output. A lifetime of defecation and urination, or a pint of blood a week, is worth something. It’s time we demand  acknowledgment for it, and every other modest contribution. It’s time we were included in the national wealth scheme of the country we are expected to save.

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