The Nation's Pulse

A Loan in the World

In a changed environment, do not expect to get your money back.

By 5.6.09

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The Obama administration is liberal in supplying us with laughs and that is one government handout I will accept. Most generous of all is Joe Biden, a blow-dried buffoon who has revived the Vice Presidency in the tradition of Henry Wallace and Spiro Agnew… men who inspired in the citizenry a desperate desire to protect the President from harm. Joe showcased his measured statesmanship in response to the swine flu when he recommended the grounding of our nation's airlines; apparently he thinks the malady is spelled FLEW.

Still, this is clearly a case of it only hurts when I laugh. The actual proposals and rhetoric are painful in so many ways, whether viewed from the perspective of abstract truth or enlightened self-interest. Whatever standard this administration is deciding by, its work product is utterly dismaying. Once upon a time we tried to live up to the demands of our Maker, who published a fairly explicit version of His will, but now we are subject to the whim of the Remaker. In the brave new world, it appears they will soon be wearing our scalps on their Beltway.

Which brings us to Chrysler, apparently broke and broken, where the fix is now in and it will be governed by fiat in the capital… that is to say, by Fiat. Yes, Fiat, a company which pulled out of the American market in 1984, because their reputation for selling junk prevented them from selling their junk. Now they are back turning our bonds into junk, a process known in the industry as milkin' a company.

Here is where Obama comes in, turning in an astounding performance by publicly condemning creditors who wanted their money back. "In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everyone else would make sacrifices and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the returns other lenders were getting. I don't stand with them."

Now, all of us know that no one was asking to get his entire loan paid back or the full face value of a bond. When he says twice the return of other lenders, he doesn't mean they are collecting credit-card or loan-shark interest. He means that some lenders agreed to take a quarter back for every dollar lent while these intransigent hardballers want a half-dollar. This shows a deplorable deficiency in the willingness to sacrifice, and Obama does not stand with that.

Well, I wonder if they can withstand him. The institution of lending money is at the heart of any productive society. To condemn lenders for wanting to recover their investment is to negate the virtue of the loan. Economically it is a fair prediction that people will become reluctant to buy bonds, driving up interest rates and freezing ambitious projects in their tracks. Culturally and morally it is far more damaging. When we begin to see the fair-market lender as a usurer, a user, a plier of advantage, a leverager of fickle fortune, a trapper of initiative, taking dreams hostage to greed, then we drive away a friend, a builder, a believer in potential, a risker for hope, a partner for the future.

The Mishna famously records that a great teacher asked five top students (Ethics of the Fathers, Ch. 2) what quality a person should most avoid. Four of them offer similar answers: being a bad friend, a bad neighbor, having a bad heart, a bad outlook. The fifth says something very different. The worst quality is being a callous borrower who does not repay. He adds a postscript: borrowing from a person is equivalent to borrowing from God.

Hearing Obama trash lenders gave me a renewed appreciation for the words of that sage. Borrowing money for the sake of establishing an enterprise is essentially turning to the world and asking it to have faith in your vision. It is an appeal to the Creator to bring resources from outside your limited life to enable you to broaden the horizon of your impact… thereby to expand the world itself. In the event success does not follow, you may learn to accept the permanence of your limits, but the lender, the world outside you, must be made whole at all costs. Our society has always recognized this ere now, at least until Obama brought this new bankruptcy.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.