I wish I had a couple of $1,000 T-bills for every time in the past few weeks that the talking heads on radio/TV and in Congress/the administration, in their pontifications about the financial industry bailout fiasco, have referred to “ordinary Americans.”
“How will this affect the ordinary American?” “What can the ordinary American do?” Blah, blah, blah. Yammer, yammer, yammer. As if “ordinary American” were some sub-species, incapable of fathoming the whys and wherefores of the financial mess.
It wasn’t “ordinary Americans” who were asleep at the switch while millions of unsound — in some cases, even fraudulent — mortgages were being issued willy-nilly by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other mega-banks and brokerage firms, concerned only with piling up massive profits and gobbling up other banks and brokerages in multi-billion-dollar mergers.
It wasn’t “ordinary Americans” — farmers, small business owners, factory workers, shopkeepers, clerks, who go to jobs every day, pay their bills on time, and live within their means — who built the multi-trillion-dollar house of cards that collapsed and sent shockwaves around the world.
It wasn’t “ordinary Americans” who looked the other way, as their elected officials did, while time-tested principles of governmental oversight and regulatory safeguards were trashed in favor of an anything-goes “free market.”
It wasn’t “ordinary Americans” who got multi-million-dollar salaries and bonuses, ordered $1,000 bottles of wine at fancy restaurants, flew in executive jets to $2,000 a night resorts, bought $500,000 Ferraris, and lived the lush life while their latter day Ponzi scheme grew and grew.
(Goldman Sachs’ CEO was reported to have received $100 million in salary, bonus, and stock for fiscal 2007; two co-CEOs got more than $70 million each; the firm’s 30,000 employees averaged $600,000 each, while the “average American” over 25 earned about one-twentieth of that, $32,000. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, spectacularly mismanaged before their recent government rescue, paid their CEOs $11.6 million and $18 million respectively last year — who says failure has to hurt?)
It was “ordinary Americans,” fed up to the teeth with mismanagement, extravagance, waste, and fraud, for which their government was then asked to step in and try to clean up the mess, who said, loud and clear, “In a pig’s eye.”
While Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, President Bush, and others in Congress, the administration, and the world financial sector were painting “the sky is falling” gloom-and-doom scenarios unless a $700 billion bailout plan was approved, “ordinary Americans” were saying, “No way, let ’em put their own house in order.” It was reported that senators and representatives were getting thousands of calls, e-mails, and letters per day from constituents seeing red over the proposed bailout and the failure of leadership to mind the public’s store.
So, the House shot down the bailout plan. U.S. and world markets nosedived in knee-jerk reaction, with the Dow recording its largest one-day drop ever.
But, as pressures mounted from U.S. businesses, facing a drying up of the credit market, an alternate, even more costly ($800 billion) plan was quickly developed and passed by the Senate, then the House.
And once again, “ordinary Americans” are stuck with the tab.