Who Are We Punishing?


We finally let General Motors file bankruptcy. Who were we punishing?

Because it sure seems to me that there’s more than a tinge of punishment in the air. What about the government not helping homeowners refinance their homes to avoid millions of foreclosures? Are we punishing the homeowners, the banks, the investors… Home Depot? Lehman Bros. Was that company punished? If we let the banking system collapse by refusing banks the capital they need to stay in business will we be punishing the banking system, or just the individual banks? The tellers, perhaps? Are we pissed because of how long the lines have been at times.

Don’t you feel it? Like, General Motors shouldn’t have been bailed out. Why? Because companies must be allowed to fail. Because management has done a terrible job. Because the company’s health benefit costs are too high? Because the unions one thing or another. What about: Hey, they needed a bridge loan because the credit markets are a wreck and they can’t get a loan anywhere else. Why do they need a loan?

Gee, I was thinking it had something to do with the fact that people aren’t buying cars either because they can’t get car loans or simply because they have the good sense not to make any major purchases at this precarious a moment in time. No? It’s the company’s cost of health benefits? Hmmm… Really? The unions? You don’t say. And the cars themselves are sh#t? Why I never. It’s the fat cat executives? Well, someone get a rope. Because see… it seems like it the credit markets and Argentina-like economy would have to have some impact.

Remember within the first year following 9-11? Remember the airlines that needed bailouts from Father Fed? We all knew why that was, right? I didn’t hear one peep out of anyone having anything to do with the airlines’ health benefit costs, or planes that no one wants to fly in… or even the unions having a stranglehold on management. Nothing. The airlines needed money because a bunch of people stopped flying for a while after watching high jacked planes crash into the World Trade Center’s twin towers over and over again. Silly humans.

Senator Shelby, Republican from Alabama, sure did want GM to go under, didn’t he? Am I nuts or did he want to punish them for being bad? Some have accused Shelby of advocating GM’s bankruptcy because his home state of Alabama is home to Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and Mercedes-Benz… so GM is his competition. First of all, if that’s true and someone doesn’t put something poisonous in his food, there’s something wrong, and secondly, even if it is true, it sure sounded to me that there was more to it than that. He wanted to punish them for having been bad.

Can you punish a corporation? Can GM be spanked? Can it feel pain? Does it know it’s being punished? It’s a corporation, right? A binder of paperwork? A bank account? What’s to spank?

And it’s publicly traded, so it’s owned by the public. Teachers, plumbers, doctors, construction workers… people own General Motors. Do we let them go under to punish the people? And what about the employees, both management and union? What about the suppliers and their employees? Some estimate that GM is responsible for three million U.S. jobs, are we pissed enough at those people to punish them?

So, when we punish GM by letting them go under, who are we punishing… us?

And what about “bailing out” distressed homeowners? Why aren’t we doing that? I think part of the reasoning, by those that oppose such measures, is that the homeowners in trouble have done this to themselves and therefore should be made to pay the price. Like a kid who threw his baseball through a neighbor’s window. We want to march him down to that neighbor’s front door to face the consequences. And I’ve heard the same attitudes as related to letting the banks go under. Does the phrase shooting one’s self in the foot, ring any bells.

It seems to me that many wanted to punish G.W. Bush. Others wanted to punish Cheney. On this year’s losing team, there are quite a few that clearly want to want to see Obama punished for winning. And CEOs? Forget about it. It’s down right hard to find anyone that doesn’t want to punish one CEO or another, and some just want to see them punished across the board.

Fannie & Freddie? That was like watching two divorced parents fight. “I told you we should have punished those kids back in 2003!” “You did not.” “I did too.” Oh dear God.

I don’t think we’re thinking about things correctly. We’re in a crisis of astonishing proportion, we’re mad as all get out… but are we’re scared to death? Because we certainly should be that.

If you’re one of the lucky Americans who doesn’t yet feel terribly threatened by the economic collapse, say you own your home free and clear, have plenty of cash on hand… you might consider that our current crisis is TRICKLING UP. If it’s not stopped soon, you will be feeling it pinching your backside soon enough, so stand by. The problem is that by the time you’re feeling the heat, the rest of the nation and most of the world will be eating beans for dinner… if they’re lucky.

Wanting to impose punishment is an interesting thing. It’s not always healthy. I’ve had friends that got divorced and for a while wanted to punish their ex. Some never got over that feeling, some did. The ones that did were better off.

We wanted to punish Germany after WWI. That’s what the Treaty of Versailles was intended to do… punish the country that had caused so much pain. It was a bad idea. Ultimately it led to WWII. We learned, and we don’t try to punish the losers of wars anymore, rather we rebuild them.

We can’t punish ourselves out of this crisis. We can’t punish this country back into prosperity. It’s time to take a breath… or two… and let that feeling go, because when we’re out to punish we’re not doing out best thinking.

And whatever your views are… I can absolutely assure you that solid thinking, teamwork, empathy… are all going to matter a great deal going forward. Punishing, you might recall from your own personal experiences, is often far less gratifying than expected.

Just a thought.

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