Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Folly, Thy Name is Government!

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

March 17, 2009 - The moral outrage radiating from Washington D.C. over AIG’s recent payout of $165 million in bonuses is thick with irony. Consider, for example, the incredulity expressed in a recent rant by Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D).

While it would be uncharitable to doubt the sincerity of Nelson’s ire on behalf of the American taxpayer, one cannot help but wonder whether such indignation, coming as it does from so many corners of the capital, is merely a distraction – a way of covering up the outright foolishness of our government’s recent actions in doling out billions of dollars to irresponsible private entities.

After all, as a simple matter of prudence, the fools who authorized the disbursement of these funds should have seen it coming. The logic of practical wisdom is almost self-evident. Company X [fill in the blank with your favorite corporate Goliath] has been thoroughly irresponsible in its management of its own funds in the past (which is partly what has gotten us into this fix in the first place). We have no reason to believe that Company X has changed either its reckless ways or its irresponsible leadership. Therefore, we have no reason to believe that Company X would use billions of taxpayer dollars responsibly should we give it to them now.

As self-evidently sound as such reasoning ought to seem, it apparently eludes the mental acumen of many of our distinguished elected officials. After all, Nelson himself, along with 60 of his colleagues in the Senate (and another 244 in the House), voted to approve (H.R. 1) the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Of course, this particular piece of legislation is not, strictly speaking, a corporate bailout. Its goals are clearly loftier. For it aims to put cash, not merely in the irresponsible hands of corporate tycoons alone, but also in the pockets of the irresponsible debt-laden citizens of an entire nation. All of this, of course, in the name of “jumpstarting our economy” – translation: create ways by which we can all consume more and go deeper into debt than we are now.

One wonders, whether the moral outrage now being expressed toward AIG executives will resurface with the same vigor when, months or years from now, we discover what will inevitably come to pass – namely, that large portions of the funds from H.R. 1 will have been thoroughly wasted by irresponsible managers. Time will tell . . .

In the meanwhile, it seems that more than hand-wringing about “old-fashioned ethics,” elected officials need some simple instruction in practical wisdom. Proverbs 14:16 says, “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” Giving large sums of money to those who have clearly demonstrated their inability to handle it judiciously is the height of recklessness and carelessness. Why so much consternation upon discovering that what has been given has been squandered?