March 23, 2011

Investments in Our Country's Resources

I used to run structured products for an investment bank and at the end of every year it was my responsibility to hold bonus conversations with my people. The traders would invariably come to the meetings armed with details of the money they'd earned and make arguments that sounded something like this: "I made $X for the firm, so I should get nearly $X for my bonus. That's only fair." My reply would be: "You made $X for the firm only because the firm gave you the infrastructure, the training and the deal flow to accomplish it. If you'd been working alone, you wouldn't have made anything close to that amount. For that reason, you have to return to the firm enough to ensure that it can continue to provide you the economic opportunities that will allow you to make a good living."

Can't we say the same about taxes? If Bill Gates had been born in Somalia, do you think he'd be a billionaire today? Of course not. He was lucky to be born in a country that had the infrastructure, training opportunities, capital and deal flow to allow him to make billions of dollars in personal wealth. Gates, for one, believes he's under-taxed and he has a good point. We all owe something to our country to ensure that it continues to be a place where our children will have the same, or better, infrastructure, educational system and economic opportunities to live peaceably and productively. Billionaires don't make billions on their own. They create their wealth, because of a remarkable system based upon pooled resources and the cooperation of its citizens. 

In many ways, we as a country are neglecting the resources that elevated this country to its preeminent position in the world today.  In particular, the cuts in education spending seem to me to be shortsighted at best.  From a purely economic standpoint, it isn't justifiable.  For example, do we understand the cost of a poor education?  McKinsey recently studied the issue and determined that the cost of the educational divide between blacks and whites alone amounted to nearly half a trillion dollars a year.  But let's put faces to the  problem and ask ourselves what the costs of a bad education are in terms of more people incarcerated, more unwanted pregnancies, more welfare and healthcare spending, not to mention lost economic production.

For economic reasons alone, I cannot understand the Tea Party's support of budget cuts that weaken our country's infrastructure.  It's bad for our future.  Instead, why can't we reduce our military budget that drains resources from the private sector and encourages us to do boneheaded things like invade Iraq?  But more than this, what's happening to funding for our children is unconscionable and should be contrary to a truly Christian agenda.

After all, Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me."

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