Above My Pay Grade

Author’s Note: This article was begun before I heard about the latest argument between mantis and my colleague, DJ Drummond. I put too much into this article to scrap it — or even revise it extensively — because of that, and I am mildly miffed at both of them for their rotten timing.

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite commenters here at Wizbang is “mantis.” Yes, he’s a liberal/progressive who almost never agrees with me. But he does it in a way that doesn’t infuriate me, but makes me wince — because he challenges me (well, us — I’m not his only target) to be on the top of my game.

Hell, if I had my druthers, I’d have mantis as a regular author here — or, if he’d prefer, in charge of Wizbang Blue. Unfortunately for all concerned, he’s too smart to agree to either.

Recently, in the course of another exchange in e-mails, mantis posed the following question to me:

On another note, I have to ask something. I don’t usually take it upon myself to tell you guys what to write about, but it seems rather odd that no one at Wizbang has put anything up about the economic meltdown we are now in the middle (beginning?) of. What gives? I spent a bit of time this morning calling my congressmen to urge them not to capitulate to the sham of a bailout proposal offered by the White House. We’ve essentially almost nationalized our banking industry (France, anyone?) and now the administration wants Congress to give a giant blank check to the executive with no oversight or review, possibly even to bail out foreign banks. I’m seeing people from all over the political spectrum come together in opposition to this obscene proposal, but not a peep from any Wizbang authors.

It’s a fair question. I won’t speak for my colleagues, but I know why I haven’t written about the bailout proposal: because it would violate some of the most fundamental rules I live by for writing at Wizbang.

In general, there are no “forbidden” topics here at Wizbang. We authors are free to write about whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want. The only hard and fast rules are “no profanities in titles” (which I’ve broken a few times) and “don’t put Kevin in any legal jeopardy” (which I’m far more careful about).

Personally, I have a few more rules. For me to discuss a topic, it has to be something that 1) I know a bit about; B) I find interesting enough to write about; III) I think I can make interesting for at least a good chunk of the readers; and d) I can find something original to say on the matter.

For me, discussing the bailout package fails on all four counts. I am no expert on macroeconomics, I find the matter too convoluted to get a good grasp on, I don’t think I can get past that enough to keep folks interested, and I don’t know enough to offer anything original or insightful on the matter.

(Yes, I know, there are about a dozen or so folks lined up to say “that’s never stopped you before!” There, I said it, so you don’t have to.)

When it comes to matters like this, I have a fairly simple rule: I look at folks who have a proven record for being right on the matter, and tend to defer to their judgment.

In this case, it’s fairly easy. John McCain and a few other Republican senators (including my own senator, John E. Sununu) called the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several years ago, and tried like hell to bring about some reforms. President Bush also tried to enact some changes, warning that what just happened might come to pass. They were stymied by Congressional Democrats, led by folks like Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, who managed to block the measures and insisted that there was no danger to those two institutions.

So, how do I feel about the bailout package? My gut says no.

I have never liked the idea of the government intervening to protect people from the consequences of their own bad decisions — the right to fail is one of the most underestimated rights we have. If we do not run the risk of failure, we can never truly appreciate our successes. Further, if we do not allow people to fail, then we run the risk of ever allowing them to learn from their mistakes and avoid similar failures in the future.

I don’t think there are very many real “victims” in this crisis. Most folks, I think, either knew they were taking chances or should have known, and were more than willing to play along and collect the potential benefits. I don’t believe in “privatizing profits and socializing risks,” as the phrase goes.

I also find the argument that certain institutions are “too big to fail.” From my spam-fighting days, I remembered the saying that “if you’re too big to act responsibly, you’re too big.” That lesson seems to apply here, too.

On the other hand… could things get as bad as some folks predict? I dunno.

I think I’m going to wait and see what folks like President Bush and Senator McCain and Senator Sununu have to say, as well as their critics — giving extra weight to the former, who have already proven their accuracy pretty well.

I know, it’s a bit of a wimp-out to pass the buck this way. But as the saying goes, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I simply don’t know enough to offer a more informed opinion, and — at least some times — I’m not willing to try to BS my way through things. This is one matter where I’m more than willing to defer to those who’ve proven they know more than I do.

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