Let’s Make a Deal

Greetings from the home office, where I’ve finally shaken off Friday’s sleepless red-eye back from Seattle. Last time I was here, Wachovia was considered a buyer rather than a target, the European/Asian markets were snickering a bit at the U.S. collapse and Paulson’s bailout bill was just three pages long. How far we’ve come…

To begin, let me state plainly that I support the bailout bill. A bunch of you have asked, so there you go. Oh, and I hate myself for it.

It’s difficult to support something with so many obvious imperfections, not to mention an extraordinary lack of public support. And it doesn’t help that there are some ringing similarities to the beginning of the Iraq War (presidential promises of pending calamity if Congress does not act, centralized power in a cabinet office, expert dissent being marginalized, etc.). But I deeply feel the alternative could be catastrophic, whereas this will be merely calamitous. Therefore, my gut says it’s the slight lesser or two evils (anyone who claims they’re going on much more than gut is deceiving both them and you).

A big part of my thinking on this has actually been informed by opponents of the bill, who argue that it pits Main Street versus Wall Street. What a ridiculous red herring. The idea that Main Street and Wall Street operate on separate planes should be absurd to anyone who’s gotten a business loan, home mortgage, bought public stock or any product from a non-local company that has accessed the capital markets (including food companies). Main Street and Wall Street are inextricably linked, even if Wall Street residents often have higher salaries and fancier cars. To argue otherwise is to be intellectually lacking or dishonest.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that there were not bad actors on Wall Street. There most certainly were, including go-along credit rating agencies that should be blown up and rebuilt from scratch. And there also were bad actors on Main Street, including folks who bought homes that they knew deep-down were out of their price-range (many were tricked, but many tricked themselves).

In the end, however, we need to work toward to most common good. I had pizza on Wednesday night with a friend who happens to run a small business in San Francisco. She noted that she is unable to get even a tiny loan to finance some sorely-needed equipment, and that she crosses her fingers each day that enough account receivables turn into cash so that employees can be properly paid. For her, this is not a conversation about economic theory or political expediency. It’s about keeping the core engine of our society alive. If that requires selling out some of our ideological purity, so be it.