For those of you who remember Watergate, John Dean, the President’s counsel, famously warned President Nixon about Watergate, describing it as, quote, “a cancer on the Presidency.” That is a pretty good phrase to describe our economic mess.
If you got the sniffles, you can take an antihistamine. A few antibiotics can cure an ear infection. But cancer requires surgery, and maybe chemo and radiation.
Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote, “Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving-with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled.” And, quoting Yale professor Jeffrey Garten, Friedman argued that it’s better to overestimate the danger and act accordingly than to underestimate.
He’s right. So I have a radical proposal: surgery followed by chemo.
Let us remember that one of the great concepts of the Reformation was the Rule of Law. No office holder is above it. So as for the surgery, I’d start maybe impeaching or indicting some of the officials who pontificate day after day on television about the terrible crisis-but they’re the same ones who helped bring it about. From those who put their pals in charge of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and then forced those agencies to make loans they knew couldn’t be repaid; to those regulators at the Office of Thrift Supervision who ignored the signs of catastrophe while the likes of Countrywide Financial, IndyMac, and Washington Mutual went down.
As one former Republican lawmaker told the Washington Post last week, the “regulatory motif” at OTS “was too accommodating to private-sector interests.” The result was chaos!
As for Wall Street, the surgery would include curbing the excess compensation so many of those officials got, and even indicting some of the irresponsible ones who negligently promoted instruments they knew had to fail. In the old days, we’d have called that fraud.
And don’t continue bail-outs to the irresponsible. Let the bankruptcy courts reorganize mismanaged companies. The reorganization would get rid of the all the labor feather-bedding and corporate excesses, particularly in the three big auto makers.
The chemo and radiation part is harder. It means injecting into the bloodstream of the nation a sense of ethics. It’s not taught in business schools; it’s not taught in high schools. We have lost our understanding of right and wrong. All that matters anymore is the financial bottom line and self satisfaction.
So this is where Christians can truly make a difference, as I have written this month in Christianity Today. The financial meltdown is more a crisis of character than a crisis of finances. Historically, our ethical system has come from Judeo-Christian revelation. We’ve got to start bringing it back into society. There is simply no other way.
Surgery, chemo and radiation are long processes. When my son went through it a while ago, it took a year. But the point is, until the cancer is destroyed, the body cannot be healthy.
To postpone it will only postpone the inevitable and perhaps merely succeed in allowing the patient to die painlessly.
This nation deserves better.
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