Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Privatizing Gains and Socializing Losses

Privatizing gains and socializing losses. This is where we are today. It reminds me of the grand kids' soccer, baseball and basketball games I have attended over the years. When the kids first start, everything possible is done to make sure that the benefits (i.e. the profits from participating) are maximimized. "Great shot" as Kari's attempted goal misses the goal post by five yards and sails away. Initially, everything good, including participation in and of itself, is rewarded no matter the level of demonstrated athletic performance. No attempt to score games are made. A couple of years later, things change. The concept of losing appears. Kids learn to lose games and accept defeat. Out on the baseball field, the shortstop who bungles the grounder with two outs in the ninth experiences the discomfort and consequences from not having done his best. He may be shunned by his teammates, or he may be benched for the next game. In short, those who engage in athletic activities learn a valuable life lesson. Losing is a part of life. Excellence in performance is a value to be admired. Think of Tiger Woods. The same phenomenon has been seen with academic activities; it is important early on for the children to feel good about themselves, we are told. However, somewhere along the line, the message became garbled. The lesson of experiencing consequences for sub-standard performance has not been properly taught. Our system of education currently is dedicated to bring up the laggards from behind who, for one reason or another, bring down the average. The catch words "No child left behind" says it all. The really bright child takes a back seat as classes at all grade levels are dumbed-down to have slower kids feel good about themselves, as well as score higher on grades so that school systems can qualify for funding. For more than thirty years I interviewed, and sometimes hired, young lawyers who had difficulty constructing adequate sentences and, more importantly, had no idea that their skills were sub par because they have been rewarded with high grades simply for showing up. One of the large defense firms in Detroit hired an English teacher a few years back to coach and teach young lawyers in basic English skills. A recent article in the New York Times described how current college students believe that they should receive A's for simply showing up to class. What a mind set; yet that is exactly what is going on in Washington and Wall Street today.

The privatizing of gains and socializing of losses set forth in our current economic recovery plan is exactly analogous to programs of early athletic programs and current educational policy in the United States. The plan being put into effect requires minimal, if any, chance of loss by private investors together with potential gains totally out of sync with the reality of profit loss ventures. If the investment turns out to generate a profit, the investor makes a lot of money. If it doesn't turn out to be profitable, the investor walks away and the taxpayers absorb the loss. Such a deal!

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