Sunday, May 31, 2009

Do All of us Expect to be Millionaires?

Tibor R. Machan

Sunday is the day when even profit making broadcasters must do service or pro bono work. And this mostly consists of broadcasting programs misleadingly labelled "public affairs." (I say this because none of these programs is actually about what matters to everyone, to the public, but only to one or another special interest group and, mostly to bureaucrats and their groupies.)

On May 30th there was such a program on ABC-TV's Los Angeles station, KABC, called "ABC7 Presents: California's Financial Crisis." I took in some of this but, believe me, it is only worth your time and effort if you need to write and talk about such things professionally. Sure, just a bit of it would probably benefit some viewers since they would witness just how inept most of these folks are. That might lead them to start reassessing their own willingness to rely on such people to give leadership to anything that's of concern to them. They show no skills that would indicate any such qualification, I assure you.

But some of what these folks say can serve as points of reference as one embarks on learning about how government is administered. What kind of thinking goes on in the minds of such folks? And does such thinking give any indication that they will be wise and virtuous enough to be California's rulers? (Yes, I said "rulers" because that is what they do vis-a-vis the rest of us, lay down and enforce thousands of rules they pretend will set things right.)

Take, for example, some comments made by Laura Chick, California's Inspector General. But before I get to that, just consider this woman's title: Inspector General! Is that an office anyone ought to hold in a genuinely free country? I think the answer isn't difficult to arrive at.

Ms. Chick was laying out her very original insight that greed is the source of our troubles. Then she added this gem about what brought on the current financial mess: "We all were planning to become millionaires." No data provided, not even some unofficial survey about what people want when it comes to their economic lives. Nada, just an unsupported, reckless announcement about us all.

Sure, there may be some people whose aim in life is to turn into millionaires, most likely, however, the bulk of those who do become millionaires--and I do know one or two such people--did not and still do not have being a millionaire as their goal. They wanted to do well professionally, running a business or working in an interesting field, and the matter of their anticipated earnings and wealth came later. For those who are in the wealth care profession, professionals in business, garnering a good return on the investments they make for their clients and for themselves does occupy a major focus of attention but even most of these folks tend to have numerous other aims in life, relating to family, friends, various causes they want to see flourish, etc.

It is not the case that most people are consumed with greed or, indeed, any other vice, even if virtually all of us dip into some vices throughout our lives but only out of neglect or bad judgment, not as a devotion, as Mr. Chick and her types appear to suggest. But maybe the reason they so readily ascribe greed to us all is that their idea of greed isn't being obsessive about acquiring great wealth at virtually any expense, including their integrity. No the idea of greed these people seem to have in their minds came across during this discussion rather clearly and it was a shocker.

Nobel Laureate Woody Clark--who is a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and an economist concerned with climate change as well as with California's "hydrogen freeway" project--gave the clearest expression of this peculiar notion of greed when he said that when people do not support higher taxes--as for example the majority of voters in California's recent referenda clearly did not--they are being greedy. (Sure, since most of them refuse to fund the projects he loves!) So greed means, for these folks, not wanting to hand over a goodly portion of their earnings to politicians, bureaucrats, and their little helpers to do with as these folks want but to keep it to do with as they want.

If that is greed, folks, then of course nearly every sane citizen is consumed with greed--I certainly am. I like to spend my own earnings on goals I have come to find worthwhile, including some personally satisfying goodies but also my children's education and enjoyment, as well as to benefit various charities around the world, especially when disasters strike. That is, I guess, how I manage to be greedy, according to Ms. Chick and Mr. Clark.

As John Stossel would say, "Give me a break." But I am glad these remarks were made on this serious Sunday "public affairs" forum--held, by the way, at the Milken Institute the directors of which aren't reputed to be wild about relying on government to manage our affairs. That way at least those who take the time to check out how these folks think can learn that there really is no hope in trusting them to do any good for anyone, let alone for "the public."

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