Blogger’s Note: The “Rant-A-Day” format enables all the cluttered, curmudgeonly, pre-election grumbling in my head to come out in a more-or-less orderly fashion. You can look at the past few posts if you want to see from whence this came.
I thought about answering the title question with, “We will!” and calling it a night, but that didn’t seem to qualify as a rant. So here’s tonight’s attempt…
In the early days of the recent global economic meltdown, when the news was all about subprime mortgages and ripple effect of the collapsing housing market, a friend said, “It really makes you wonder…people are losing their homes, now their jobs. Isn’t that what government’s supposed to do — protect us from stuff like this?”
I sympathize with the idea that the government could perhaps have done more. I think it’s crazy that banks could write loans that the borrowers had almost no chance of ever paying off, and even crazier that companies can bundle things like (forgive me if I’ve completely misunderstood, but even my misunderstanding underscores the problem) possible future earnings, then buy and sell those bundles like they represent something that actually exists. But we are people, after all: crazy ideas are our specialty.
On the flip side: we are also adults (well, most of us), and we have a responsibility to be informed consumers and cautious in our business dealings. I’m sure many people in the housing collapse were victims, taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders — but I’m sure many others willfully distorted their ability to pay in order to secure a bigger loan. I’m sure some didn’t take the time to understand their mortgages, some were naively optimistic, and some just signed where they said sign. Government can put up guardrails and warning signs, or even patrol the edge of the cliff — but what if we chose to ignore them? What if we jump?
Who will take care of us?
I was in a meeting not long ago in which a colleague I don’t really know except by sight was pontificating about the need for higher-paid employees like her (and especially like her bosses) needed to give some of their salary back to protect lower-paid employees from potential pay cuts. She suggested that all who made more than $XX,000 per year should take a deeper cut in pay so that “less fortunate” workers — those who made less than $XX,000 could afford to buy groceries and pay for childcare. “They need our help!” she opined, accusing the administration of not caring about “social justice” and imploring her colleagues to help her take care of us — to act for the greater good.
For whose greater good? I thought. She likely didn’t know she was talking about me — the “working class” were generally underrepresented in the meeting — but I was struck by the paternalism in her remarks and the condescension in her tone. I wanted to stand and say, “Do I look like a victim to you?” — to explain that my wife and I are doing fine raising four kids on my salary, thankyouverymuch, and if we need someone’s help, we’ll ask. I wanted to ask her why it is that in my church, the lower-income parishioners are more likely to give, and give more, than the wealthy. I wanted to say I’d rather go hungry than have her define my “greater good.”
I don’t want to outsource my better life. I don’t want someone to take care of me and my family. Events like the economic collapse or the attacks on 9/11 can shake us to our very core because they effect us profoundly, yet seem so far beyond our control. But why, when these things happen and we wonder who will take care of us, would we cede what little control we have and trust unknown others to act on our behalf?
The government should absolutely make and enforce laws that protect our inheritance — life, liberty, and opportunity — and prosecute wrongdoing when and where it happens. But beyond that, it should expect us to act in our best interests, individually and as a society; it should step aside, and watch us reach out to our neighbors to raise them up, too. The “privileged,” if they want to be of use, should actually lend a hand, firsthand — if a colleague is struggling to get by, see what you can do to help. Throwing money at a problem is easy and feels good, but the last thing we need is a bunch MORE like-minded people with money and influence pooling their resources because they’ve decided they know what’s best for us.
General Douglas MacArthur once said, “There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity.” There are no guarantees; only possibilities. Who will take care of us? We will. We are not victims.