I’d like my pain up front, please

I wrote a post a little while ago about the current economic crisis. In that post I wrote:

Its amazing to me that they are saying maybe this latest stimulus wont be enough. Enough for what? Enough for whom? We live in a world that is constantly achieving new balance points….. There is very simple economic data that tells us this. The market evolves, and when the internal combustion engine develops, the people who make carriages are screwed…..Clear ideas are guideposts that can help us know how it all works. But even if we do know how it works, there is still the matter of how it is actually gonna work.”

The video below is an interview with Thomas Friedman on MSNBC. I think the only thing that Thomas can’t point out is that just as the President has to keep Republican’s voting with him, he has to keep Democrats voting with him. I do believe that there will come a time when some of the spending in the current budget will be rolled back. But if Obama didn’t do that now, Democrats would object that he was being run by the Republicans.

The economy that George Bush allowed to slide away is what Obama inherited. Oddly enough, in order to take the long-term steps to fix things, there have to be some steps ‘in the wrong direction’. Friedman is terribly smart… I enjoy listening to him keep our eyes on the ball.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Rodriguez, Madoff and Jones v. the unknown

Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez recently admitted to using performance enhancing steroids. Despite general hue and cry, the highest paid player in baseball has had some defenders. Bruce Levine writing on ESPN argued:

“Rodriguez was one of 104 positive tests in the first wave of testing back in spring training of 2003, but keep in mind that before 2004, mandatory testing in Major League Baseball did not exist. Steroids were against the rules, but were not tested for. The idea that Rodriguez is the poster child for all that was wrong with baseball from 1990-2004 is just wrong.”

I couldn’t disagree with Levine more – Rodriguez is the poster child for a system that doesn’t protect gifted individuals who don’t cheat, from those who do.

The people exposed on the front pages are not marginally gifted. Most are extraordinarily gifted, without the cheating. But whether we’re talking about Marion Jones, Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, or Alex Rodriguez — they are people who have polluted the top of the mountain. Writing on his blog in November of 2007, Rodriguez wrote:

“Winning my third Most Valuable Player award today is something that holds special significance to me. There are so many gifted players in this game, and I don’t for a moment take this achievement for granted. I shouldn’t need to remind anyone of the MVP-caliber seasons that Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, David Ortiz and several other AL players put together.”

Alex Rodriguez has admitted doping from 2001 – 2003.

Perhaps the biggest problem with cheating isn’t the ill-gotten gains, but the denial of success to the truly worthy. The all-star ball-players who never get that mvp, the ace investors who never get the biggest accounts.

The prevalence of certain forms of white collar cheating highlights the dynamic balance between regulation and personal freedom. That balance will never be perfect. In the United States no prosecution can exist if the act wasn’t a crime – as in Rodriguez’s admitted doping. However, if the benefits of a crime extend to family-members and teams, why do our punishments stop with the individual?

Bernard Madoff recently admitted to a massive financial fraud that robbed thousands of individuals and organizations of their investments, left numerous charities reeling, and crushed investor confidence.

In the instances of both Rodriguez and Madoff, the cheaters have tried to insulate their family and friends from any impact. Clearly they were not insulated from the benefits. Should they pay?

If so, how far should the punishments reach? Madoff’s wife has been filing briefs to insulate her assets from her husband’s. Wikipedia shows that the wife of one of Madoff’s two sons filed for divorce the day before the scheme was publicly disclosed. Was this done to insulate his/her assets? How far from a star’s mistake should the light of justice shine?

Every time that I see another story of contrition and sadness, I am reminded that we know these people from seeing them in their success. Who are the people we should have known? The people we should have feted? The ones who would have had the highest returns, the most home runs? What should be done to protect them? Others are out there now fighting for stronger regulation, and I appreciate that fight. The integrity of our financial and social systems demand it, not just to prevent fraud, but to prevent the perversion of real success.

A Banquet of Consequences

I wrote last night about the evolving economy…. what with the stimulus et al.  I’m bummed that this is eating massively into President Obama’s first hundred days. This is not a problem that is going to be solved in 100 days, but doing something about it (and that something will never be very effective, comprehensive or pleasing to everyone) has become the focus of his first days in office. The economy would be any responsible president’s #1 legislative priority. But given that the problem won’t be solved soon… I hope they can find a way to move on.

Re-reading what I wrote last night I am reminded that a) I sometimes sound like a total nutter, and b) sooner or later we sit down to a banquet of consequences. (That phrase isn’t mine, but I can’t remember whose it is.)

We benefited from being on the forefront of globalization for some time. Now the whole globe is catching up to the reality that efficiency only does so much. Global trade has fueled investment/development, and U.S. manufacturing has suffered. There is no silver bullet for this. We’ve won, and lost, at the same time. And it’s not just us. I saw on the news last night that Nissan is cutting several thousand jobs. This is not just about us.

I suggested in the last post that when the internal combustion engine comes around, the people who make carriages are gonna go down. I think there is a parallel there. Just that we’re the ones who got people into the engines, and now they – not just ‘we‘- are making em. Sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.

I just found the quote, by the way: it’s Robert Louis Stevenson. And it would seem I am not the only one to find it applies to people eventually being tagged for the stupid things they do.