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As Long as We Remember...

February 9, 2009

Big Lies

Steven R. Berryman

Famous lies of our time include: “The check’s in the mail,” “The computer is down,” and, “You can trust me.” The smaller lies – and, thus, easier to verify – are the hardest to tell and to maintain.


When it comes to the salvation of an entire economy, much bigger lies work well. The lies are much easier to invent, perpetuate, and obfuscate, as they reside in a bigger place.


Our new president, becoming now a “mis-director-in-chief, complained on camera recently that now “everyone is an economist, or at least they think they are.” No, Mr. P, that may indeed have been what you heard, but what the people were saying was “we are not sure that you are one either.”


Of course, the CEO of the American economy did not ride to power on the basis of his economics bona fides, or even his executive experience, for that matter.


Questioning is part of the process and will not be dissuaded upon accusations of disloyalty.


Some of the big lies being vigorously protected at this writing include:


*We are going to change the way Washington does business!


This was, of course, commercialized as sentiment while campaigning as the generic “change” option. The new administration is being populated by Wall Street insiders, President Bill Clinton administration re-treads, and those paying back taxes only upon scrutiny.


Then there was the pledge to bring on no former lobbyists. The many exceptions made in this instance afford us small change.


And then there’s:


*Of course it’s really a spending package, how can you have “stimulus” without spending?


No! The reference to spending indicates that the money – really only ether – is being doled out in patchwork form, seeming more like a pork-larded payoff than an action plan.


President Barack Obama statement avoids talking to exactly how money spent in the name of stimulus is targeted. The end-users of the benefits of a stimulus have been widely and continually advertised as being our “middle class.” Show me!


Why not take that extra step and connect the dots on exactly how this works out! I’d hate to be populating the ranks of the middle class with ranks of the old “upper class.” Is the theory to “trickle sideways?”


Direct incentives to employers to hire have been chopped out. Payroll taxes by employers have not been reduced. Which parts of these are “stimulus?”


*But we have to do something!


Not necessarily.


The above had been the war cry for the original “Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). We still don’t know where the original $350 billion went, or what it impacted. Indeed the fast rush to act resulted in a worse outcome – a humongous waste – than having done nothing. Handing the banks vouchers or gift cards, which must be “spent” to take life, would have been a way to go.


So, instead of teaching banks to lend, we now find ourselves scratching heads and trying to see if we can “claw it back.”


Doing nothing is actually an action unto itself and indicates a distinct position. In the case of what was TARP and eventually became a failed bank handout – if it had not occurred an outcome could have been forced to allow banks to consolidate and merge under terms that would have served taxpayers more fairly.


And then there’s my favorite big lie:


*There is enough blame to go around for the economic meltdown!


This is code for: Congress and other “watchdogs” were asleep at the switch and can’t be bothered with accountability.


Of course, there is blame:


The Security and Exchange Commission couldn’t even catch Bernard Madoff in his gigantic Ponzi scheme, even when formally reported.


The Federal Reserve Board under Alan Greenspan refused to make waves and kill the “golden goose” on its watch.


Wall Street knowingly invented derivates (custom designed securities) to evade scrutiny and went unpunished.


Realtors knowingly sold properties to buyers who could easily be proven to be not risk-worthy, all under the aegis of feel-good home ownership targets.


Maybe now is the time to scrap our current oversight and start anew. Consequences should be added in this new version.


And how about:


*I just found this mess…


This last one was certainly meant as an Obama joke, but no, not really!


One big lie that President Obama is seemingly telling himself is that the mess was there before his arrival in the office of the presidency, and, thus, he didn’t have full ownership of it as our leader.


This remorseful lie is telling, as it indicates his sticker-shock, and the possibility that he is in way over his head.


After all, “just being glad to be here” only lasts so long.

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