party like it’s 700 B.C.

The big economic news last night and this morning was that numerous Wall Street executives of bailed out firms were going to pay large bonuses this year.  They justified this expense by saying that they have to compete with other firms to keep their good talent.

I recognize that the following may be an overgeneralization—which is why I put it on my blog—but here are a couple of concise thoughts which apply to many of these executives:

1.  You are competing with yourselves.  You sit on each other’s boards and vote pay raises for your competition, which then gives you the cover to increase your own salary.  You are abusing your power to rig the game in your favor.

2. You are not productive.  You do not make your money by increasing value for our economy but by taking money out.  Earning money for your firm on commissions, volume trading, and credit default swaps is not the same as investing capital in promising businesses.  You are parasites on our economy.  You aren’t helping.

3. You are broke.  Even if #1 and #2 are incorrect, the fact is that you are not successful enough to pay your bonuses with your own money, but are paying your precious talent with money you borrowed from us.

Our economy is approaching biblical proportions.  Open to any of the Old Testament prophets, put your finger down and start reading.  What they say is strikingly relevant today.  Here are a couple of passages from Isaiah:

Does this sound like America?  “Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures.  Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots.  Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made.  So man will be brought low and mankind humbled….” (Isaiah 2:7-9).

Read this in light of the subprime lending scam:  “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.  The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing:  ‘Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants’” (Isaiah 5:8-9).

Does this seem applicable to our elected officials and their lobbyists?  “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts.  They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).

6 Comments

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  1. Jonathan Shelley October 15, 2009 — 7:08 pm

    Mike:

    Good thoughts (although I’m not sure I completely understand your first sentence as written). For me, let them have their silver and gold, if that is what they desire. I prefer to contemplate the sparrow and the lillies. After all, [to die is gain for then I will reign with Jesus in heaven – I’ve got a mansion!]

    And you know that I don’t care about money since I am trying to become a theology professor!

  2. Mike,

    Not sure I fully agree. Certainly I, too, object to these execs receiving large bonuses after having been bailed out. But I also believe the bail out never should have occurred, and still do not believe it was necessary. The market would have continued to spiral downward, would have hit rock bottom, and we would have rebounded without the government.

    The private sector has the right to be the private sector. Simply because they received unnecessary (and inappropriate) bailout money from a government that lusts for control is no reason to deprive them of the rights they are entitled to as a private sector entity.

    If the choice is between corporations greedy for money or a federal government greedy for control over my life, I’ll side with (and defend) the greedy corporations (sort of the same rationale we used when we sided with the USSR in WW2–not really too happy about it, but consider the alternative).

  3. Greed is a horrible thing, but the greed of the executives is merely symptomatic of a society steeped in relativism and a “don’t judge me attitude.”

    They should be held accountable for what they did. They abused a capitalistic system, a system that trusts people will do the right thing. But let us not forget that these are the consequences of being tolerant.

  4. Josh:

    Good point, but I wonder about your defense of their “rights.” Isn’t this part of our problem? Everyone seems more concerned about their “rights” than about what is in the best interests of the community. I’m pretty sure that the leaders in OT Israel told Isaiah, Amos, et al. that they had the right to do what they were doing, but God wasn’t terribly impressed with their argument.

  5. Mike,

    Your point of the execs competing with themselves is a strong one. It reminds me of an incident during my first term in the State House when a group of school superintendents sat in my office to plead why they needed more taxpayer funds from the state. They tried to argue that they were caught between the funding levels from the state, and the salary demands from the unions. I suppose I had more guts than brains when I pointed out to them that their arguments were falling on deaf ears because I knew that their own salaries were basically tied to any percent of increase given to the unions. They did not like that I pointed this out, but they could not deny it either.

  6. Well said, Michael.
    I could not help but recall also from Dt. 8: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.”

    I know this applies directly to Israel, but if the shoe fits…

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