Wednesday, March 11, 2009

we did the right thing, why should we be punished?

Here is an excerpt from yesterday's Buffett interview:
BECKY: You mentioned before when we were talking about the mortgage plan that it may help some people that it shouldn't.
BUFFETT: Of course.
BECKY: But that's something we need to suck up and understand at this point. But it does lead to other people who have questions about whether they're being penalized for doing the right thing. In fact, Bob and Lani in Rapid City, South Dakota, write in. They say, "We are conservative South Dakotans. We are now saving more, but the government wants us to spend more. Are you `short' or `long' on our strategy to `pay all your personal bills promptly and always live within your means'?"
BUFFETT: Well, I've always followed that myself, so I'm with them 100 percent on that. But in terms of 100 percent, I mean, you don't want to get behind the eight ball. I mean, if you are, you've got to work your way out, but it's always better. You know, Ben Franklin wrote that, you know, hundreds of years ago, the--you know, earn a dollar, spend 99 cents, result happiness, you know. Earn 99 cents, spend a dollar, result misery. And--but in terms of the inequities, if I were a--had been a client of Bernie Madoff's and fortunately I never heard of him, but let's say I was a client of Bernie Madoff's. I'm in the middle of Lake Michigan with him. We're in a boat together. Bernie's at the other end. I've just lost all my net worth. I see this hole spring up at his end of the boat. Am I supposed to cheer? No. I mean, in the end, you know, I want to save Bernie, too. I mean, not because I really want to save him, but I--you know, there is no way to divorce myself from what's happening on the other end of the boat. And this thing is covering--going to cover the whole boat. There's no question about it. So the people who havebehaved well are going to find themselves taking care, to some extent, of the people who didn't behave well.

From an individual perspective I think it is correct to get mad and judge the unfairness for what it is. At the same time, I can see the necessity of bail outs based on the reasoning described in the interview (

Basically, at the government and industry leader level, it is time to clean up the mess and get the economy functioning smoothly again, even at the expense of printing more dollars by selling more debt. I can see why Buffett is reserving judgement and thinking about it as not a bunch of individuals with problems, but as a complex system of organizations that intertwine and whose problems affect the entire system population. But there is indeed a role to play for advocacy of living within your means, not just at indivuals, but businesses and of course government officials.

But as I look into my doomsday crystal ball...let's say I have done the conservative thing so much that I have planned for the absolute worst: I have a year's supply of food in the shed, ammo, fuel, you name it... the majority of people have run on unbridled greed and have not so planned. The worst does indeed happen, even the gov is unable to help (think katrina but 10x worse). After a few months, angry hungry, crazed mobs roam the streets looking for clean drinking water. Do I really expect to be able to hoard my stash to my family alone? All moral qualms aside, I fully expect to be robbed even beaten or murdered for my food and water.

Unfortunately the fear and greed cycles are things we have not and probably will never evolve out of and they are not just individual issues, they are systemic and cause systemic affects and thus require systemic intervention. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't think we will achieve the economic vision of the conservative party: where government is virtually non existent when it comes to the economy, individuals and businesses thrive and fail unbridled, and money is tied to a standard of gold or some other commodity. I think businesses are far too big, and interrelated, especially finance. You could blame globalism, for making the world economies so interconnected. Despite all the problems, I think this is the best course and we would be worse off otherwise. Free enterprise still exists and I don't think we'll lose that. I can't envision the united states voting away its freedom in favor of dictatorship at least not in my lifetime. I think economic bitterness can lead to such things as protectionism and eventually socialist dictators. That's why the role of educating what sound financial behavior is is so important and essentially futile as greed is inherently part of man's nature such as good and evil. Just as their will never be world peace as long as we have our freedom, so their will never be smooth markets without bubbles and panics. (i am speaking secularly and don't mean to infringe on any visions of the millenium/zion) I just dont think I will be alive to see man shed these flaws.


Anne and Joe said...

I believe in the teach a man to fish philosophy, where that man will be self sustaining because of his ability to fish. In a capitalistic society, this is also true. And as with the fish,there will be a certain percentage who either will not fish by choice or can not fish by inablity. One is a choice, the later a great mystery of the universe. That being nothing is absolute or finite. Not even death. So within the capitalist model, it allows for the kindness and generosity of those that have to reach out and help those that do not much better than any government bureaucracy could or would. So teaching a man to sustain himself financially as well as fiscally would have the same outcome in my mind. But I have been called crazy before too.

So there will be those who have and those who have not. And those who have some. There is no economic engine in the world's history that has enabled so many within a society to achieve their fullest potential as has the capitalist model.

When an ideology encroaches upon individual rights and forsakes what is guaranteed in our Constitution, while forging ahead with a socialistic agenda under the guise of civility and compassion, then we are all in danger. The first thing Hitler did was to nationalize the banks.

Don't worry, we aren't hoarding anything yet. And I also find it hard to believe that America will become a second rate country, but I find myself much more wary than ever before....

Mike and Adrianne said...

We have talked about this a lot. We have also talked about the food storage thing. Mike wants to buy a gun and when someone comes to steal our food he will shoot them. I am ok with sharing our food even if the neighbors didn't prepare. I would be upset about it and I would pass judgement I'm sure but I would also not want them to starve. However, if it is between my kids starving and the fella across the street that didn't prepare, I would shoot him if he were going to steal my food and water and make my kids starve.