Friday, September 26, 2008

The taller the building, the more satisfying the splat

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad the last few days as politicians and bankers run around Washington like startled leghorns in the henhouse squawking and flapping their wings without a clue concerning what to do about what’s scared them --- as Wall Street lays the egg.

Dad watched his grandfather, Daniel Myers the first, go down the tubes financially --- not because he’d lived lavishly or bought expensive toys --- but because he had felt obligated first to help set each of his children up in farming and, second, to try to bail them out when they turned out not to have his managerial skills or common sense. Among all those children, only two I believe, including my grandfather, managed (barely) to hold onto their land. And Great-granddad , who once had owned hundreds of acres, died in the 1930s with only the 40-acre homestead --- only because they couldn’t take that away from him. It was a struggle, Dad said, to come up with enough money for his tombstone.

Dad worked first as a farmhand, then as a sharecropper, for nearly 20 years to earn enough money to buy a farm himself without going into debt to do it. To say that he and my mother lived prudently would be an understatement. Their goal was to eat well, live comfortably but never lavishly and put enough aside to see them through old age until death. That they did.

At first I was thinking, “I’m sure glad he didn’t live long enough to see this.” But now I’m not so sure. It’s surely nothing that would have surprised him, although he’d not have wished it on anyone. But even he liked to say “I told you so” now and then.

I know Dad would be worried about his modest stash of cash. Not that he had ever done anything to endanger it --- many who grew up during what until now at least we’ve called the Great Depression didn’t, and don’t. But the concern always was, and is, that damnfoolishness will trickle down to the most well-managed banks and the most rock-solid and conservative investments and wipe out everyone --- not just those who richly deserve to be wiped out.

That’s the way a free-market economy works when greed trumps common sense and not a thought is given to sustainability. We’ve been in that mode for a long time now.

I don’t know about this bailout. It’s tempting to want to just stand back and watch financial empires come crashing down. On the other hand, if that happens many who do not deserve to suffer undoubtedly will and we may be among them.

I do know one thing, though, about a requirement any bailout should carry with it --- that those who led their financial institutions into disaster should be required to jump from the tops of their headquarters buildings in return for assistance. The taller and more lavish the building, the more satisfying the splat.

My dad, Daniel Frank Myers, is up top. My great-granddad, also Daniel Myers, is at left. And I am Frank Daniel Myers and proud of them both.

1 comment:

Ed Abbey said...

My parents still farm and live well beneath their means. It is about the only way I know how to live myself.