Thursday, November 18, 2010

Warning: I Like Feedback

Should my blog feature its own warning label?

Maybe something like "'recovering cynic' with an emphasis on the 'cynic' at the expense of the 'recovering'"?

Has spending over a year without gainful employment rendered me even less socially compatible than ever?

In any event, I have to say that the feedback I received this morning from somebody who apparently is a regular reader of this blog has actually been a welcomed turn of events for me.

Thanks to "Anonymous"

I don't know who "Anonymous" is, and maybe they thought by writing they were risking offending me. Maybe "Anonymous" is a friend of mine who wants to offer some constructive criticism while knowing I'm not the world's most humble person. I laugh at another possibility - that "Anonymous" has never personally met me and assumes I deserve more credibility than I am due! Any any rate, I want "Anonymous" to know that I am neither offended by your feedback, and at least in this case, nor do I take it lightly.

Yesterday's essay to which "Anonymous" responded wasn't an easy one for me to write. Perhaps it's because I'm not an economics expert, a fact which apparently seeps through the cracks of my sentence structure like sunshine through an old barn! And when I ask the rhetorical question of whether people who fuss about income inequity do so out of envy, I can hardly deny that yes; there are times when I look at some people and wonder how they've gotten the money they've gotten.

Respect or Jealousy?

Now, high-net-worth medical doctors don't faze me at all, since they work exceptionally hard and assume significant responsibility in their profession. Inventors and innovators who profit from their personal ideas and better mousetraps also deserve their financial rewards. I think I can honestly say that I don't begrudge any legitimate contributor to our society the money they earn putting their skills and energies to good use.

But I struggle to value the mind-bending financial packages given to many CEOs and Wall Street brokers, figureheads who sit astride organizations whose profit can rarely be ascribed to a single person or group. At least, not in the manner such exaggerated rewards seem to be lavished. Even when large organizations falter, their exiting executives receive absurd golden parachutes which appear to mock the very incentives corporate boards claim such payments ensure.

I'll admit it: I'm a bit jealous of what people like that get paid. And I get flustered when our society seems to accept such pay packages as part of how capitalism works. Maybe this is where my lack of strategic economic theory proves itself - for example, with my bafflement over airline pilot pay contrasted with paper-pushers in corporate. But many of these people, as wealthy as they may be, don't even reach the stratospheric tiers of wealth I describe as "two-percenters" and "elite capitalists."

The Two Percenters

No, these are people you and I will probably never meet. At least, we'll probably never have their personal cell phone numbers. They comprise literally two percent - some categorizations put the figure at five percent - of the American population. There aren't many of them, but they're more powerful than you think. They're the people who earn millions of dollars a year - sometimes tens of millions - even as they're laying off employees, mucking through corporate scandals, or, in the case of personal injury lawyer types, taking advantage of legal loopholes and honest mistakes at the expense of common sense.

On Wall Street, they're the people who bet against their own firm, constantly ferret out new ways to re-sell other people's money, and bank on the weakest links in society's moral character. In all of these scenarios, the Biblical metric of an honest day's pay for an honest day's work receives short shrift, and I find it difficult to apologize for my lack in incentive to simply shrug my shoulders and turn a blind eye.

Yet these are the people who, increasingly, are calling the shots in our economy and our politics. They're the people who fund both sides of the political divide; the George Soros types for the liberals, and the Koch brothers types for the conservatives. And when I say "fund," I'm not talking about a thousand here and a thousand there for their favorite candidates and causes. I'm talking millions. At a time. And over time, they've come to a point where they're warping the political dialog and debate in this country beyond anything most liberal activists and conservative talk radio fans realize.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk milk the conservative masses with exaggerated scare tactics and oversimplifications of issues. They have to - it's how you keep regular listeners. And it's easy - after all, making fun of politicians doesn't really require you to come up with your own original material. But how much of what talk radio's stars say is accurate? How much is credible? Who are their sources? Inflammatory hyperbole may make good entertainment, but it makes horrible policy.

The conservative ideology undermines its own credibility with these loose cannons as pitchmen.

Unsupported Claims?

Unfortunately, "Anonymous" finds some of my claims "completely unsupported," which I don't doubt. I would, however, have appreciated more hints as to what those unsupported claims have been. In my defense, I suspect that those claims were probably supportable, albeit by data "Anonymous" would discredit. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that "Anonymous" actually perseveres through my entries despite having issues with some of my content. Actually, it's flattering when people who don't always agree with me continue to listen to me anyway. Or at least try to give me the benefit of the doubt. It's a good practice to pursue, and for me to emulate.

For the record, I do check in with the websites of Limbaugh and Beck every so often, and you might be surprised to learn that I actually agree with many perspectives advocated by the Koch brothers. And I realize that to an extent, conservative ideology can benefit from the hyperbole and machinations of the extreme right, if only to counteract the blithe obfuscation by liberal pundits of the damage being done to our country by their leadership's agenda.

If conservatives will continue to bear with me, I think you'll find that I'm more on your side than you think. You may feel like saying "thanks, but no thanks!" when it sounds like I'm giving too much credit to the opposition, but we all need to remember that economics and politics are not exact sciences.

For proof, just look at where we've gotten ourselves as a nation today. How we extricate ourselves from this malaise will require people of all political stripes working together in an imperfect compromise for our common good.

When both the conservative and liberal elites recognize this simple reality, then maybe we can make some progress. After all, conservatives like to trot out the Founding Fathers at every opportunity, and two of them were Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry.

One quote both of them made famous (derived, actually, from Aesop's Fables) was this:

"United we stand. Divided we fall."

I'm just sayin'.

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