Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Honorable Man

Wasn't it just recently that some politician suggested that the honorable thing to do, for the business executives who were responsible for the economic crash, was to commit suicide? Well, he obviously had American businessmen confused with Japanese businessmen, some of whom may still have a modicum of honor, and who tend to favor suicide as a way of ultimately saving face. Our problem is that, without anyone realizing it, a bunch of sociopaths gradually moved into nearly all the key positions in business and finance, and they are totally unabashed about the massive failures that occurred on their watch – not only that but they are insisting that they be kept on the payroll and offered things like “retention bonuses” -- presumably so they can pull the same stunt again in a few months, thus justifying still another round of bailouts (this has already occurred in the auto industry, note). It's truly amazing to me that these guys are totally incapable of experiencing any feelings of shame, humiliation, or remorse; maybe that unit got cut back in business school, who knows? And were they selected for this trait by corporate "headhunters"? In any case, we certainly can't expect any of them to be the least bit interested in preserving “capitalism” -- even the watered-down and co-opted version we've had in place for the past few decades. They are actually much more at home with socialism, and, in fact, have been at home with it for quite a while, the only difference now being that it's completely out in the open. They will walk off into the sunset, arm in arm with the government, never looking back on the wreckage they have wrought.

But the reason I'm bringing any of this up at all is that at least one of the heavy hitters in question, namely the CFO of Freddie Mac, David Kellermann, really did take all of this to heart and, as a result, committed suicide early yesterday. Who knows what pushed him over the edge? Maybe it was guilt over the $850,000 retention bonus he was receiving; some people can tolerate being amply rewarded for failure, and some can't. In fact, it's not even clear if he was one of the most-failed executives; he apparently was promoted at the same time Bush (not Obama, note) fired two other top people in the company. In any case, the man apparently had a functioning conscience – which made him somewhat of a freak in the contemporary world of big business and high finance (not to mention government!). And of course, the troubles are not yet over for the likes of Freddie Mac – they can't just cash in their chips and leave town. They have to stay chained to the government millstone for the indefinite future, and put up with non-stop humiliation -- “cruel and unusual punishment” indeed, even if largely merited.

Personally, I think it would have been more constructive if Mr. Kellermann had committed a different sort of suicide – namely by pulling a Joe Valachi and detailing every sleazy bit of the Freddie Mac operation – shining light into the darkest corners – naming names – and, in particular, “outing” the Congressmen, bureaucrats, and regulators who facilitated the process. That would have been a significant contribution – a historical one. And, he would, of course, have become an instant pariah in the business world, but a hero to millions of ordinary Americans. But I guess this never occurred to him... or if it did, he decided that he'd had enough stress for one lifetime. Who knows? It's just too bad when someone who might have retained a glimmer of honesty, morality, and ethics is the one who winds up victimized, and paying the ultimate price – and the ones without a conscience go free and enjoy all of their ill-gotten gains for years to come.

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