Laws may fail us, but our morality will not

When government representatives allow immoral but technically legal corporate practices, are we being just as immoral in re-electing those same representatives back into office? Does more regulation help our moral standards or just focus on legal standards? Does it matter? Why do we need legal standards when the moral thing to do is not give our business to those who are doing wrong with our money?

The government announced that starting this month, they will be buying $40 billion worth of near worthless bonds from the Wall St banks every month to try to save the economy. Using our money.

Think it will work?

Willing to bet your retirement on it?

Because if you have a 401k, you already are.

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You are more important than you think

“How can I help you?”
“I was calling to close my Citi accounts.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. And why are you wanting to close your account?”
“Well, after I’ve been reading about the part that Citi played in buying and selling mortgage bond derivatives, going into huge debt, which caused the market to collapse, I feel that I can’t do business with them.”
“Uh. Ok. So you’re closing your bank account because of the mortgage bond derivatives or whatever?”
“Yes.”
“Ok.”
Silence.
“You know, back in 2008 the market crashed-”
“Oh, I know. I’ve been an account specialist for 10 years.”
“Ok”
“So you’re closing your Citi account? Are you not having a bank account anymore…?”
“I’m closing all my Wall St bank accounts. And keeping my accounts with my local bank.”
“Ok. Well, I can’t turn back the clock, unfortunately. It looks like you had a lot of activity on your accounts.”
“Yes.”
“So 4 years later you’re closing your account..”
“Yes, I would’ve done it sooner, but I didn’t know things would turn out like they did.”
“Well, I can’t speak to the actions of the bank, but restitution has been made and we’ve moved ahead.”
“I don’t think it has. The US market collapsed, and, you know, there’s blame to go around, but I think the banks need to face the consequence of their actions.”

The best part about living in a free society is that if someone does wrong, we don’t have to work for them if we don’t want to. We can quit. Or if there is someone who works for us and they do wrong? We can fire them if the government won’t do it.

The government, of course, encouraged the banks to give out mortgages by providing them the money, which led to homes being overvalued, and people getting homes who wouldn’t have been given mortgages before, but then defaulting on their payments.

But the bankers made the bad loans, and the Wall St banks deceptively packaged the bad loans with the good and sold them with good ratings, so it feels right that I fired all the Wall Street bankers that were working for me. Given, I’m still part of the system. And my money is still coming from a corporation, since I work for one. But it’s not coming from the most carelessly powerful corporations of all. The ones that the government is allowing to exist in the same too-big-to-fail capacity that they were in before the crash of 2008. Apparently, these banks should be called too-big-to-control.

But I controlled my business with them. And if we all do that, and make it known we will not stand for such clear carelessness and deceit, and we will not have our bank accounts, 401k’s, or credit cards with them, then I think the banks will be controlled. And they will be controlled in the best way possible:

By the customers who they have wronged and who must pay for their bailout.

And that’s you and me.

Remove the money gag

How would you rate the following in importance?

-Tax breaks for gay and straight married couples
-Wall Street banks paying fines a fraction of the $30 trillion the government loaned them to keep their collapse from taking down our economy.
-Government money to cover contraception

What do we need to focus on? All of these involve controlling money. Is that the problem?

The money isn’t the problem. It’s how the government is engineering the country as if money is our only motivator.

Good leaders trust the human spirit, not carrots and sticks

Good leaders don’t use regulations and incentives. But our leaders are doing so today. They’re trying to regulate Wall St bankers to prevent their recklessness from hurting us again in the future. But regulations restrict us and push us to find a way around them. That is why three times since 1990, the banks have almost collapsed and why the government bailed them out each time. If you knew you were going to get your money back, would you be more or less careless when spending it?

And incentives? Incentives bribe us. Research shows that when you start giving rewards, people are pretty predictable. They stop doing for the sake of doing, and shift to doing for the reward. When you start going to work so that you can get money to buy stuff, the stuff becomes the reward and the job becomes less of a choice.

We’re not animals. But if you use carrots and sticks on us, we will tune our motivations to that type of environment

How can these two things be the foundation of leadership, of government, of a community?

They can’t.

Are there any leaders today that inspire you? Most leaders of today aren’t going to be the people in government. Those who seek power in a system that has been compromised have compromised themselves. Granted, they may change some things. They may nibble at the fringes. But that cancer still grows inside.

Despite what media and culture tells us, leaders aren’t special. They aren’t chosen by divine providence or fate. They don’t have abilities different than you and me. Do you empower others? Ask people what they think? Do you encourage people? Then you’re probably a leader, or you can become one now that you see what it takes.

Leaders make things happen, yes. But:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”

This Taoist quote tells us it’s about us doing something. It’s always been about us. And I think we can do this. It’s going to require us to remove the gag of money that has both silenced and motivated us. It’s going to require looking past the “I want to get mine if they’re getting theirs”. It’s going to require stopping the consumer train, and looking at what we’re feeding the engine. It’s going to require putting our heads together and not letting party or social class or emotions divide us and distract us from doing the right thing.

Let’s kill the noise and start listening to reality

Elections are where we can flex our muscle. But we’ve got to do our homework before then. Listen to what’s being reported. Do you think it’s important? We’ve got to talk to people and not be afraid to ask them why they believe what they do. Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy, and neither are you. Politics isn’t personal. It’s what a community depends on for its survival! And if we think one party or one person can fix this country, we’ve missed the point. This country is here because people had the courage of their convictions to join together and risk everything for what they believed in.

I think we can step up and be leaders again.

MLK commemorative post: Dr. King fought against the majority. Today we have the same fight.

Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population. Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts. The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer. Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority. This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice.

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving them. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored. We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race. We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers.

Yes. We can.

The Occupy Wall Street protests and fear

The protests that began several week ago have spread from NYC to several cities across the nation. I was thinking about why people are protesting now, but not before the market crashed in 2008.  As I puzzled over it, a friend answered my questions simply: “Fear. They’re afraid now.”

We are driven by confidence

For at least the last 10 years, people bought homes and invested in housing loans, because they had confidence that home values would go up. In fact, there was so much confidence, that three things happened:

  1. There were loans that shouldn’t have been taken or given
  2. A lot of investments were bets (derivatives) that home values would increase. Investment banks bet so much, in fact, that they went into debt!
  3. And lastly, but maybe most importantly, investment banks started cheating. They combined the risky derivatives, called subprime, with the more stable derivatives, called AAA, and called them all AAA.

Fear is useful

Everyone bet on house loans because there was no fear, because there were no negative consequences to our actions. The banks didn’t care when someone couldn’t pay their home loan, because the value of homes was always going up.  If someone walked away from the loan, the bank took over an investment that was increasing in value.  Still, bank debt continued to grow, and fear set in that banks didn’t have enough money to pay their account holders. Fear is useful to balance out the belief that we cannot fail. In fact, failure is good.

Failure is a learning opportunity, not a time for retribution

Occupy Wall Street has an opportunity to recognize the failure of the US: Of our government in promoting irresponsible housing loans. Of the banks that chose to go into debt so they could continue giving out housing loans, good loans or bad. Of the people who accepted loans but couldn’t really pay them. Of the people who allowed their banker  to bet their money in the housing market without knowing how they were going into debt?

Occupy Wall Street is not a time for class warfare

Occupy Wall Street needs to show us that our failure is a chance for hope. Hope that we can hold people accountable: The people in government, the people in the corporations, and people like you and me. The protest is a call to take responsibility. To realize that we have the power. The power to do the right thing. When the government or corporation has become too big for us to control, it’s time for us to reign them back to represent our interests. Not the interests of money, but the interests of people.

How do you think the Occupy Wall Street protests can bring about this change?