Corruption, Greed, Incompetence — And Here Comes Election 2010

Posted on October 21, 2009

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Remember “Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll?”  How about “Fear And Loathing?”  A few choice words  have power to evoke an ethos or a zeitgeist! Forget about complete sentences. I’m talking poetry, headlines, book titles, songs.

“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” is the best recent entry in the field. (Thank you Tom Friedman).

“Corruption, Greed, and Incompetence” will be the epitaph for the present era of American government and business.  If we’re not careful, it could be the epitaph for the American Dream. Our society is riddled with corruption and incompetence. Not everything and not everybody is tainted, but the rot is pervasive. I doubt that I can name any major industry or institution that doesn’t have its share of corruption or incompetence, or both.

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Wall Street has come to epitomize shameless and ruthless avarice. Take the bailout money and laugh!  Ride the limo to the corporate jet!   Bonuses for everyone!  “Business ethics” is an oxymoron. But you knew that.

Self-interest rules. The greatest obstacle to excellence in education? Answer: The teachers’ unions. The two greatest obstacles to excellence in health care? Answer: The health insurance industry, aided and abetted by the best U.S. Senate that money can buy. The greatest obstacle to financial sanity? Answer: The materialistic American consumer.

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I write from the perspective of a Marylander, 13 months before the 2010 election. A common expression here is “the culture of corruption in Annapolis.” This pains me, because I’ve known many honest and dedicated Maryland politicians and state workers.  (It does appear that Maryland has “the best state Senate money can buy,” considering the cost of winning a Senate election.)  But I cling to hope that there’s less corruption in Maryland than people think. Call me an optimist.

Leaders, whether on Wall Street or in Annapolis, should beware of  arrogance. It’s hard for voters to pinpoint corruption and incompetence, even though it’s endemic. But voters can smell arrogance a mile away.

Arrogance is deadly, especially when combined with corruption. People will allow the Wall Street CEO a corporate jet. Voters will allow the politician a limo and a bit of travel for public business. People will grant the  government worker a take-home car, within reason. But voters have zero tolerance for arrogance in high places, especially when combined with corruption and/or  incompetence.

It is against this backdrop of corruption, greed, and incompetence, that we anticipate the 2010 elections. The arrogant and powerful, whether in politics or on Wall Street, should be afraid. The voters are angry.

With thanks to Woodie Guthrie: “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.”

— John Hayden

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