The ongoing financial train wreck allegedly perpetrated by Wall Street finance wizard Bernard Madoff is proof perfect of an old adage about not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Today, we cannot afford to depend solely on one person, company or institution for our livelihood, investments and safety. It is incumbent on us to make sure that the foxes are not in charge of protecting the hen house.
It’s all about taking care of business, defending one’s rights and property and practicing ‘due diligence.’ Just because a person is a big time banker, preacher, philanthropist, politician or community leader does not mean they should be trusted unconditionally. Unconditional trust often leads to unimaginable fraud, as we have just seen.
Thanks to Madoff’s alleged romance with a Ponzi scheme investment fraud, tens of thousands of people have lost their investments, charitable foundations have crashed and burned, and pension and retirement plans have lost a boatload of value. The climate of deregulation, emasculation and skeletal staffing of the nation’s regulatory agencies has come back and bit us on the behind.
The fact that many of our industries have become “too big to fail”—that is if we don’t bail them out they may take the entire economy with them—is proof perfect of the failure of our regulatory system. This economy is too large, too complex, too interconnected nationally and internationally to allow laissez faire to run free. While we cannot stranglehold the economy with intertwining, often conflicting regulations, we cannot keep a hands off policy and “let the chips fall where they may.”
Our problem is that we forget the lessons of history. Our addiction to the instantaneous, our addiction to instant gratification blinds us to the long-range and long-term consequences of personal, institutional and governmental actions. There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. The problem is, we have forgotten the lessons of the near and distant past.
Somehow we have convinced ourselves that the past doesn’t matter, that we are somehow immune to the forces, which wrecked past economies, civilizations and cultures. We have convinced ourselves that “we are different”, better, or more intelligent than our forefathers and foremothers. Their mistakes are not our mistakes.
Like inward-looking adolescents, we convince ourselves that we know more than our parents and their advice isn’t worth two cents because “things are different now.” Do you remember the dot com bust? We love to convince ourselves that we are unique, that our time, our country, our selves are different from anything that has ever existed. In this love affair with self, we cut ourselves off from the valuable lessons of the past and prove over and over again that “Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.”
There are people out there who said the Great Depression and its lessons did not apply to us because “times were different then.” Under this delusion of uniqueness of time, place and people, we ignored the consequences of our action. We convinced ourselves that the rules of the “old economy” didn’t apply to the new information-based economic system. We convinced ourselves that the power of profit and loss didn’t mean today what it did in times past.
Investors poured billions of dollars into companies which never made a profit, companies which went through billions of dollars in a “burn rate” of billions, convincing themselves that the company didn’t have to make a profit because the economy of today was structured differently than in times past. We let the kids run the candy shop for decades while they ploughed through the inventory, wrecked the fixtures, alienated customers, refused to modernize, ate and stole their way through the inventory and drove the business into the ground. Now they have hit rock bottom, and are now looking at a bailout.
For decades they wanted to be allowed to “be adults” and eschewed regulation, oversight and basic business principals of profit and loss, not living beyond their means. And now, because their tentacles reach so far down into the bedrock of the national economy, we are left with the choice of letting them fall on their face and take a huge chunk of the economy down with them, or spend good money after bad and reward their profligacy.
In this economy we have discovered to our cost, that, when left unsupervised and deregulated, those chips become boulders, the boulders turn in to avalanches, and the landslides can destroy an economy. Ultimately, deregulation is a nasty example of “when the cat’s away, the mice play.”
Unfortunately, under this deregulated environment, these mice were playing with money instead of cheese. Their games have destroyed banks, wrecked pension plans, drowned insurance companies and continue to tear the guts out of the philanthropic sector of the economy. To add insult to injury, after driving their businesses and industries into the ground, after their pet deal makers in Congress signed off on deregulation, now these same industries are howling about a bailout-- and the dealmakers are digging their hands into the taxpayer’s pockets for more money than any of us can count, bailing out industries who have marketed themselves as the pinnacle of American free enterprise for generations.
Deregulation and a rudderless regulatory environment have promoted economic excess and irresponsibility for years. The fruit of this here-to-fore deregulated economy continue to slap us upside the head, as entire industries, bloated beyond measure, come crashing down on Wall Street, taking millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in assets with them.
Not for profit agencies and charitable foundations continue to take a beating. Thousands of not-for-profit organizations may close or have to scale back as grants and bequests are left hanging in the wind, allegedly due to one man’s actions.
A publication that specializes in philanthropic news reports that,
The alleged multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme run by Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff has sent shock waves through the world of philanthropy, forcing at least three foundations to close their doors and threatening donations to several nonprofits, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. (PNN On-line)
The problem is, as noted by the above article, due diligence. We have become so accustomed to “Uncle Sugar” taking care of us, we forget that, in a deregulated economy, Uncle Sugar is often either looking the other way, or in bed with the crooks. And, even in a regulated economy, crooks slide in under the regulator’s eyes and still ply their trade. We have forgotten that nobody takes care of us better than us; no one has our best interests at heart unless we do.
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