Finance: Government Policy Reinforces Irresponsible Behavior

 

Do you ever feel alone when you read or watch the news? The only one paying income taxes at the prescribed rates? The only one that resisted the urge to buy a bigger house? The only consumer that lives within your financial means? The only business or investment manager with morals and ethics? The only one that is not looking for a government bailout? The only one not getting anything from the bailout?

You are not alone. In fact 80-90% of Americans are with you. 80-90% pay taxes and their home mortgage and hope the government covers the core areas we expect them to cover. Unfortunately, we watch personal and corporate irresponsibility get confused with those that are rightfully worthy of our help. Yes, some people were taken advantage of, some are so unfortunate that health issues or job issues have caused them harm and yes, we need to protect those victims of predatory financial practices. You could even go so far as to say that some companies are long time American success stories and may need a hand to reach those levels that allow them to continue to employ our neighbors and pay taxes; and yes, we should reach out to help all of them, if it is in our collective interest.

However, too often we see the government rushing to the rescue of the undeserving. Whether it’s real estate speculators, bank executives, businesses without a viable model or the family in the bigger house with the fancy cars that lives well over the edge of financial responsibility, why are we there to bail them out or otherwise give them tax advantages? Is it in our collective interest? Are we reinforcing behavior that we find admirable? Where is the logic of “saving” firms that created unsustainable entitlements for themselves? One scary thought is that those responsible to decide where the bailout money goes are the same politicians that have the United States on a similar track as the U.S. auto industry – a model burdened with entitlements and financial mismanagement that ultimately is not sustainable.

Personal responsibility and accountability seem to be pushed aside for the risk-taking executive, the incompetent and the overleveraged consumer who knew or should have known that there was risk associated with their behavior. During the good times those individuals reaped the rewards. Now they stand with hands outstretched looking for compensation as shareholders are wiped out or for debt forgiveness as other Americans continue to make their payments as agreed. I don’t pass judgment on the behavior; risk takers are rewarded when they are right. But why are we bailing them out when they were wrong?