In an effort to make some sense of this electoral season's increasing levels of irony, double standards and outright hypocrisy, the country's current economic calamity has me stymied.
Let me explain:
A couple of years ago one of my former junior high teachers emailed me with a fairly generous offer of help for some of our neighbors (what other organizations call clients). I don't really remember what the offer was and actually it doesn't matter. What caught my attention was the caveat that he included in giving me the information regarding the assistance. "I would like to see this go to someone who really needs the help, not by someone who is gaming the system."
Now this is one of my favorite teachers and coaches. And he and I have had occasion to see one another from time to time across the years. In fact he honored me by asking me to preach the funeral service for his wife.
But I was offended by the statement that he wanted us to make sure that assistance went to someone who wasn't 'gaming the system'. I know what he meant, I understood his concern. But, really? I remembered this conversation when Wall Street's problems come to mind - making me more offended!
Wasn't this current mess started by people who were 'gaming the system'?
The emerging trend of some conservatives is to look at legislation signed by Bill Clinton as the start of the problem. It was legislation that expanded the capacity of banks to offer a wide array of investment intruments, if I understand it correctly. While it never fails to amaze me that people find some way to blame Clinton for everything the Crusades to, the Lincoln assassination let's just assume for a minute that signing the legislation created an opportunity for the current near collapse of the United States economy. Did signing that legislation mean that financial institutions now had the opportunity to expand legitimate business opportunity? Or was it intended to make it easier for greedy, robber barons to exploit and nearly wreck the free market? And wasn't that a Republican dominated Congress that passed the legislation and sent it to him for his signature. And by the way, if the bill was so bad, where was the outrage when the legislation was drafted and passed by those who now blame him for signing it?
Also, there is a great deal of talk of how the current problem is the result of poorly regulated or unregulated markets in real estate and finance. Now, of course, we are crying for regulation, because we see that without regulation we have too few checks or balances to place restraints on human greed and exploitation. Interesting. Because the lack of regulation is likely to cost at least a trillion dollars and bump up the nation's deficit to somewhere close to 11 trillion (if I'm off a billion here or a billion there, excuse me, I'm not used to counting that high!).
Here's my point: weren't they the one's who took unfair advantage of the legislation we're blaming Clinton for signing. Weren't they 'gaming the system'? And aren't the cries for 'regulation' now, cries for corporations to live with the same checks and balances that poor people have to live with?
You see, if you are poor, food stamps are not automatic. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), is not a given. Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP are all programs for which you must apply and qualify. The same is true for public housing. All assistance given to the poor is assistance that is in some way 'regulated' to control the prospect of 1% of the federal budget devoted to public assistance being 'gamed', by 5% of the country's population!
If you can find waste, fraud and abuse of 1% of the federal budget which reaches the estimated one trillion dollar bailout/restructure/loan (whatever its currently being called), then I can stop this line of argument and go on to something else.
Or if you can cut costs in public assistance that will balance the trillions of dollars which currently constitute the federal deficit, then again we can go on to something else.
I guess my question is: why are we feeling sympathy for people who 'game the system' because they have money? Especially when their 'gaming' has global consequences? And why is it somehow more moral to tell poor people who make bad decisions, who live irresponsibly and who do not prepare for the unforeseeable that they must 'suffer the consequences of their actions', while at the same time pan handling for bailouts and providing golden parachutes for CEO's who run companies in the ground?
My former coach is right. We do need to keep people from gaming the system. But maybe we ought not be quite as concerned about the people he's talking about.
There are obviously quite a few 'gamers' out there.