Break­ing down the break­down

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Amer­i­cans wit­nessed ex­traor­di­nary hap­pen­ings onWall Street in re­cent days. Huge lend­ing, bro­ker­age and in­sur­ance firms, which once stood as sym­bols of Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial strength and rep­re­sented the na­tion’s re­solve to do things right, came tum­bling down. Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers now own 79.9 per­cent of in­sur­ance gi­ant AIG, but that doesn’t ex­actly con­sti­tute a sooth­ing balm.

New York Daily News colum­nist Michael Daly, in his col­umn — An­other Ma­jor Cri­sis, And As Usual, There Are No Sus­pects — wrote last Thurs­day of en­ter­ing the AIG Tower lobby to visit the ob­ser­va­tion deck, which of­fers clear views of Ground Zero in New York City. De­spite his ac­claimed sta­tus as one of the ma­jor­ity share­hold­ers, the guards turned Daly away, to his con­ster­na­tion.

How’d that old nurs­ery rhyme go?

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty to­gether again.”

The thing both­er­ing me most about theWall Street break­down is that top ex­ec­u­tives of those in­sti­tu­tions sim­ply refuse to shoul­der blame for dam­ag­ing the sav­ings and in­vest­ment plans of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and show no re­morse for de­stroy­ing so many of their em­ploy­ees’ ca­reers.

To me, they re­sem­ble the Delta Air Lines’ ex­ec­u­tives who took off from the moun­tain­top of pros­peri- ty and crashed into bank­ruptcy, yet walked away with their own huge buy­out pay­ments and bul­let­proof pen­sion plans in­tact.

Nearly 100,000 or­di­nary folks lost their jobs in theWall Street break­down, but the fat cats with the pent­house offices where the buck is sup­posed to stop, will do no jail time.

The fact that those re­spon­si­ble will walk away makes the break­down even worse than the En­ron scan­dal, for at least a few of the En­ron ex­ec­u­tives ac­tu­ally served hard time.

Where, one might ask, did it all go wrong? And, more im­por­tantly, is the “Humpty Dumpty” anal­ogy ac­cu­rate, or can the ge­nie be coaxed back into the bot­tle af­ter the smoke clears onWall Street? This is not rocket sci­ence. Nor is it the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board piec­ing to­gether a downed air­liner to find what caused the crash.

Un­bri­dled greed caused the ex­ec­u­tives of those in­sti­tu­tions to look the other way when un­safe lend­ing prac­tices were in­tro­duced in the name of greater prof­its.

Without ex­cep­tion, every­one thought they could gather all the golden eggs be­fore the house of cards be­ing built with un­sound, un­eth­i­cal book­keep­ing prin­ci­ples col­lapsed. They took all they could, lav­ished praise and mil­lion-dol­lar birth­day par­ties upon them­selves and hoped their re­tire­ment date would pre­cede their in­sti­tu­tion’s demise.

Be­cause it came at oth­ers’ ex­pense (i.e.; ac­tual monies lost in in­vest­ments, ca­reers lost, re­tirees loss of fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity in re­tire­ment af­ter a life­time of la­bor) that, in my mind, makes it crim­i­nal.

Folks a lot smarter than me say we’ve re­cov­ered from each of Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial melt­downs dat­ing all the way back to Oct. 24, 1929. His­tory teaches we’ll come through this thing. Humpty Dumpty will, in essence, be put to­gether again.

But here’s the im­por­tant ques­tion: should Humpty be put to­gether again? The global econ­omy as now struc­tured as­suredly de­mands it, but should Humpty be put back to­gether as be­fore?

Would it not con­sti­tute blas­phemy for those who would boldly re­struc­tureWall Street in the name of re­cov­er­ing our cit­i­zenry’s lost for­tunes and our na­tion’s lost pres­tige to sim­ply change the names and faces in the pent­house suites, whilst mak­ing no sub­stan­tive changes to the way Amer­ica does busi­ness?

There’s a voice cry­ing out in the wilder­ness, one I be­lieve de­mands hear­ing on the mat­ter. Al­though Wilm­ing­ton, N.C. more closely re­sem­bles an earthly par­adise, au­thor Tom V. Mor­ris cries out from that neck of the woods for a fun­da­men­tal change to Amer­ica’s cor­po­rate wilder­ness. And peo­ple need to lis­ten to him.

Mor­ris won renown as a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor at Notre Dame, where he was teacher of the year nearly an­nu­ally back when Lou Holtz coached the Fight­ing Ir­ish. Re­al­iz­ing a void ex­isted in Amer­ica’s busi­ness world, which was seek­ing eth­i­cal, moral, com­pe­tent and com­pas­sion­ate lead­er­ship, Mor­ris left Notre Dame and founded the Mor­ris In­sti­tute for Hu­man Val­ues (www.mor­risin­sti­ ).

He now tours Amer­ica, speak­ing be­fore a wide range of audiences in­ter­ested in hear­ing how eth­i­cal change from the top can trans­form Amer­i­can busi­ness.

It’s my be­lief that now, more than ever, Wall Street and Main Street need to heed that voice call­ing from the Outer Banks. A good start­ing place is ei­ther of his two best-sell­ing books on the sub­ject, “If Aris­to­tle Ran Gen­eral Motors,” and the more re­cent “If Harry Pot­ter Ran Gen­eral Elec­tric.”

One of my fa­vorite 1990’s rock bal­lads, writ­ten by Den­nis DeYoung and recorded by Styx, is en­ti­tled “ShowMe the­Way.” A brief ex­cerpt, para­phrased, comes eerily close to de­scrib­ing theWall Street Break­down of 2008:

“Ev­ery night I say a prayer in the hope that there’s a Heaven, and ev­ery day I’m more con­fused as the saints turn into sin­ners. All the he­roes and leg­ends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay…”

Well, Tom Mor­ris is show­ing Amer­i­can busi­ness just how to re­struc­ture the way we do things in the af­ter­math of theWall Street break­down. Cry­ing out from Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., he needs hear­ing not only byWall Street, but by Main Street.

If Amer­ica will lis­ten to this rea­soned voice, tem­pered with philo­soph­i­cal wis­dom of the ages and steeped in the down-home virtues of hu­man val­ues, Tom Mor­ris will in­deed show us the way.

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