Something I saw on the“Today Show” May 6 unnerved me. A financial expert was on, answering questions from viewers. One, a well-dressed, articulate woman, identified herself as the wife of a chiropractor who had closed his practice but still owed a substantial SBA loan. Her question was which would be the better option, paying the $2,000.00 a month owed for the next seven years or having him escape the debt through personal bankruptcy.
What so disturbed me was the discussion of this solely as a tactical decision. There wasn’t a glimmer of shame or regret, or even an acknowledgement of obligation to those who had loaned them money in good faith – the bank and its shareholders and us taxpayers. Moral and ethical obligation, personal responsibility, honor, the rule of contracts and agreements – all non-issues. Just: what’s best for us? As to everybody else involved, who cares?
Many moons ago, I went through bankruptcy myself, and have never hidden it from my readers or clients. I was pained about it as a personal failure and a matter of dishonor. I didn’t just question what it might do to my credit. It wasn’t just a tactical choice. I voluntarily made the affected people whole, long after the fact.
I can’t conceive of going public on national television beforehand, calmly discussing the pros and cons of my contemplated act purely in terms of personal, tactical benefit, as if deciding between buying or leasing a car.
This little slice o’ life discussion on “Today” struck me as microcosm of a far bigger, fast growing societal, cultural and political epidemic: the total disregard for individual responsibility, individual’s property rights, and contracts and contract law.
The day before this little q-and-a about personal bankruptcy, I paid close attention to the details of the Chrysler pseudo-bankruptcy entirely designed and forced on involved parties by President Obama. In this, the bondholders and others who, in good faith, loaned or provided capital to Chrysler and have contracts supposedly safeguarding their interests have been told by the president they will get 29 cents for each dollar, and he has viciously demonized those objecting. The taxpayers get a measly 10 percent equity for about $8 billion, our interests irrelevant and unprotected. But the UAW, with little skin in the game, no cash being lost, gets 55 percent of the equity handed to it.
The president has proposed letting bankruptcy judges do “mortgage cram-downs,” rewriting loans and reducing principal or payment amounts owed as they see fit – with no regard whatsoever to the lender who owns the mortgage. The term “cram-down” ought to signal there’s something wrong. Oh, you had a contract, and you thought that meant something? Well, not in Obamaland, unless you are on Obama’s Favorites List. Everywhere you look, individuals’ rights – especially owners of things – are out. So, is it any wonder people feel no compulsion about walking out on mortgages, loans, every contractual obligation, every responsibility? You have to wonder what a society entirely devoid of personal responsibility or moral obligation will look like.
It’s interesting to me that there’s so little discussion of this in the media, of the big picture of what kind of society we are creating and what kind of society we want to live in. One where presidentially appointed, all-powerful, entirely unaccountable czars make decisions about who gets what? One where no one acknowledges any obligation to anyone else or responsibility for his commitments? One hostile to private investment and lending, so everyone is entirely dependent on government for education, housing, health care – and entirely restricted to what the government will provide? Such countries already exist and people flee them by every imaginable means. In the past, our country was their destination. I wonder whether it will be still.
I think most people are looking at the current goings-on as isolated situations, incidents and ideas, and as such, many sound attractive. Free college for all? Well, heck, why not? Government as majority owner of major corporations and financial institutions? Well, if it guarantees jobs for people, why not?
One of the roles the media could serve would be connecting these dots and showing people how they fit together, to create an entirely different
Dan Kennedy is a serial entrepreneur, adviser to business owners, sought-after speaker and author of 13 books. More information about Dan can be found at www.NoBSBooks.com, and a free collection of his business resources including newsletters and webinars at www.DanKennedy.com.