Heard Off the Street: New Year promises necessary all over
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Those burdened by minor pangs of guilt over how little they have accomplished in the past year usually try to ease their remorse with some sober self-assessment in the dark, dwindling days of December. Although many of us lack the will or discipline to change our behavior and attitudes over the coming 12 months, New Year's resolutions remain a worthwhile exercise.
So it is with more hope than faith, with malice toward none and charity toward all, that these resolutions are offered to CEOs clinging to their rights to the corporate jet, straightjacketed Tea Party members, high-frequency traders, those entitled to Social Security and Medicare at any price, and other protected species.
Corporate CEOs should resolve to refrain more often from throwing up their arms in despair at the prospect of additional regulation and consider doing the right thing more often. Contrary to popular belief, rules are not made to be broken or to inspire ingenious ways that allow people -- corporations are people, too -- to comply with the letter, if not the spirit, of the law.
High-priced executives should vow to make more of an effort at understanding why the unwashed masses are apoplectic about their seven- and eight-digit paychecks. While they may believe they are entitled to such sums, their perspective will be more informed if they understand why so many see the widening income gap as a threat to the health and vitality of the nation.
Recidivist corporate malefactors who negotiate settlements with regulators to avoid being tried on more serious charges should promise to acknowledge that neither admitting nor denying their guilt doesn't change what they did or public opinion regarding their behavior. For their part, prosecutors burdened by too many cases and inadequate resources should acknowledge that expediency is the basest form of justice and resolve to do better.
Republicans encumbered by their oath of allegiance to Grover Norquist should vow to concede that there are worse things in life than paying taxes at rates slightly higher than historically low levels. They include neglecting decaying infrastructure that could make America more competitive if someone were willing to pay for it. If those who use and benefit from the infrastructure refuse to foot the bill, that leaves government as the provider of last resort.
The dwindling few who insist on throwing money at problems should commit to understanding that if money were the answer, our health care system, as good as it is, would be considerably better.
Those who would keep taxes low and reduce government services should commit themselves to understanding that government, in and of itself, is not bad, the monumentally inept staggering toward the fiscal cliff notwithstanding. They should consider the possibility that the answer may not be less government; it could be better government.
Politicians and citizens who have grown accustomed to the expediency of using business as a convenient whipping post should resolve to comprehend that job creators, in and of themselves, are not fundamentally evil either.
Consumers, the intended beneficiaries of government regulations, should educate themselves so that they can make better choices -- and then make those better choices. The bankruptcy of Hostess Brands -- the maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and other health foods -- is proof that it can be done. Regulations do not free consumers for bearing the consequences of their ill-informed decisions. Having more educated consumers would lower health care costs and reduce the financial victimization of people who should know better but don't.
Quants -- math-savvy investors empowered by frenetically paced computers that enable them to trade with high frequency -- should promise to judge whether their manic, computer-driven behavior contributes to economic growth. Surely, they could employ their logarithmic skills toward a higher and better use rather than making a living by capitalizing on temporary price swings that create profits but little of lasting value.
Those who insist that Social Security and Medicare benefits are sacrosanct should promise to consider that our fiscal dilemma goes well beyond the $16 trillion federal budget deficit if you include unfunded commitments made to future Social Security and Medicare recipients. While those programs may not be in immediate jeopardy, might it not be better to make adjustments to costs and benefits now instead of enduring another financial cliff scenario farther down the road?
Finally, the affluent, job creators, senior citizens, baby boomers, Generations X and Y, minorities, and other special-interest groups should resolve to acknowledge that their sense of entitlement encourages others to feel the same way and makes it more difficult to strike the compromises necessary to move the nation forward. They should take a moment to reflect on the fact that the preamble to the U.S. Constitution says "in order to form a more perfect union," not "to coddle a multitude of special-interest groups obsessed with pursuing their piece in their time."
Unless, of course, we're all not in this together and it really is every special-interest group for itself.
First Published December 30, 2012 12:00 am