Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm Not Surprised

This past week has been a maelstrom. Christian friends have been exchanging emails of encouragement as we face the realities of our economic failings. The meltdown has dominated the top of the news lines and has become the chosen ball for our presidential candidates to bat back and forth at each other. Much of the world is freaking out. I’m not surprised by any of this.

In the process of buying and selling homes (two times buying, one time selling my house in Oklahoma and also watching Susanna sell her condo in Tallahassee) I experienced first handedly the suffocating power of bureaucracy. Bankers, insurance agents, inspectors, title companies, hidden fees, visible fees that I couldn’t understand, real estate agents on both side of each transaction, their fees, the forms, the, mountain of paperwork, the amount of signatures, witnesses and the parlay of offers, counter offers, the etiquette, lawyers and closing day. At every turn you as a buyer and also as a seller feel like you are being had by a countless number of people who have developed this elaborate charade in order to find sneaky ways to get at your money. They snip a seeming little tiny fee here and there and make six figures each at the end of the year.

When I was debating the counter offer from the seller of my first home, I worried that my mortgage company had short changed me by raising my interest rate half a point from the time of their original quote. On the phone, commiserating with my Dad, his point was: look at it this way…if they don’t get your money here today, they will figure out another way to get it tomorrow.

If this is the status quo for the real estate industry (think now of Frannie Mae and Feddie Mac) then how can it not be the same for every other industry?

I used to explain that industry is made up of the time card puncher and the entrepreneur—the faithful blue collar who works tirelessly to feed and keep his or her family warm and the people at the top who find new and different kinds of widgets to make. I thought of myself as the cantankerous, gad-fly educator, who sits annoying outside of industry wondering, why they hell are they making those widgets in the first place?

This is how I spread it out:
entrepreneurs (1%)
educator/philosopher/skeptics (9%)
workers (90%)

Now I’m realizing that I’ve not been accounting for all those upper-mid level entrepreneur/bureaucrats…those people who don’t think up new widget, not the people who make them either, but those people who sit behind desks figuring out ways to insert hidden fees, to add important extra paperwork (more fees), those people who complicate the systems so much that we can’t fully understand exactly what we are paying for.

Help me think through this. What is the spread then?
Entrepreneurs (1%)
Educators (9%)
Bureaucrats (35%)
Workers (65%)

Maybe we can equate lobbyists to the bureaucrats when we compare industry to government? Hidden fees equal earmarks?

Our legislation contains pork and now our society is facing the reality and the consequences that our economy and industry have pork too. We are reaping the confusion that we have sown.

My hope is that this will only thrust Obama further into the lead as voters choose to hope in a change in leadership. I am not naive to believe that our present economic troubles are the result of the last eight years failures by Bush alone. I implicate him in our crisis mostly because of all the money that has been wasted on military. The total spent on Iraq now is over $1 Trillion. However, these were systems that were in place before Bush. The “old boy” network didn’t start with George Bush Jr. or Sr. for that matter. Every system needs to be critiqued. We need objective criticism to suss out weaknesses and restructure. The failings of health care, social security, the over expenditure on Defense, and the deficit are all governmental counterparts to the present failings of private industry. We take our cars in for tune-ups and we take our bodies in for check ups, why isn’t America capable of putting its governmental and economic systems through the cleaners too? Is it our limitations as a two party system? Why have we allowed things to get so bad?

All solutions lead to dissolution. All theses have anti-theses. Hopefully this next decade will lead us back to some sort of synthesis.

Consider how many people live beyond their means by maxing out credit cards. What is happening with our national economy is that same kind of recklessness only millions of times worse.

Again, I do not believe that Obama will solve the crisis either. I just believe he will be better at shaking things up precisely because he is new, young and a Washington outsider. I really liked his joke this week. Something to the effect...all McCain needs to do is call a staff meeting! [said in response to the idea that McCain will challenge the "old boys club" cronyism of Washington].

Now then, why is it that the educators/philosophers/skeptics are so clearly counter cultural in our society? Why are prophets never appreciated in their own hometowns? Why did Socrates drink the hemlock? It’s because educators rock the boat. They hold up a mirror in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. Let’s look at ourselves and let’s look closely at ourselves. Instead of pretending that everything is all right. Let’s look underneath the surface. Let’s do some spring cleaning. Let’s identify our mistakes, own them and learn from them. Let’s rebuild and restructure. Let’s relearn old lessons. Let’s not be surprised that we have work to do. Oh, and let's better fund education too.

No comments: