Monday, September 29, 2008

Week of 09/29/2008

Pass the Bill, Pass the Bill
– by David Matthews 2

A hard-working man was invited by his rich friend to dine with him in one of the finest restaurants in the city. The hard-working man was hesitant to accept the offer, mostly because he had heard that the meals were extremely expensive. But he was assured by his rich friend that he would help out if there was a problem with the bill.

So the next night the hard-working man showed up at the five-star restaurant wearing his best (and only) suit. His wealthy friend met him at the doorway and told him that he invited some more friends to join them. Pretty soon it was a party of ten at this restaurant where the cheapest item on the menu cost as much as the hard-working man made all week.

The ten of them had a nice light-hearted conversation, discussing the various issues of the day, laughing, joking, enjoying drinks and appetizers. Then the courses came, and it was one delicious serving after another. The champagne flowed freely, and toasts were made to their new best friend, the man who worked hard for a living.

After the dessert and before the coffee, the first of the “new friends” said that he had to leave. Last-minute emergency and all, but don’t worry, his friends will cover his part of the tab. The second one had a phone call that he had to take, but never made it back to the table.

The hard-working man started to get nervous. Did they at least leave some money to pay for their part of the bill? Did they pay their part of the bill already? He quietly asked his rich friend about that, but his rich friend said that you really don’t ask such a question in the restaurant.

Nerves… not to mention a few glasses of wine and two cups of coffee… eventually got the better of the hard-working man, so he had to excuse himself to use the men’s room. That was an extravagant place to visit, in and of itself. It was bigger and more luxurious than any bathroom he had ever been in.

But when he returned to the table, he discovered that, much to his horror, all of his “friends” had left, and the waiter was there with bill. It was a sizable bill, and one that he would end up selling most of his belongings and giving up all of his life savings to pay. Even more insulting was the fact that the ones who had left the earliest had ordered and consumed the most expensive items on the menu.

Does that sound familiar? It should for most Americans.

The American people are getting stuck with “the bill”, and it doesn’t matter what kind of “bill” it is. We’re getting hit with it and we’re expected to pay it all.

When corporations fail, we’re the ones that end up paying for it. We lose jobs. We lose a source of income which helps sustain the local economy. And until we can get new owners for the area, guess who gets to pay for the property taxes for the building and land that it sits on? That’s right, we do.

And what happens when those corporations fail because of fiscal mismanagement? It’s not the fault of the workers. They work hard and do everything in their power to deliver the kind of service people expect, but the executives are more worried about placating the board of directors than in making the business work. Or perhaps the company is bought out in one of those wonderful mergers that you read about in the papers. Don’t worry about the investors and executives. They’ve all got golden parachutes and first dibs on any money from the remains of the dying business. We just get stuck with the bones.

In fact we get stuck with A LOT of bones.

Have you noticed that when a new store comes into town they never want to take any of the already vacant buildings or land that has already been developed and are looking for new owners? It’s true. Your local Wal-Mart or Target or Best Buy doesn’t want to take over a building that already exists. It costs them too much to raze the structure and level the land. No, they want to buy their own land, clear it out, and put up a brand new building there. Then they grow on it and put up a whole bunch of new mini-malls alongside of it, ignoring all of the other half-empty mini-malls and full-sized malls, and actually taking business away from those places, which are probably already struggling in the first place.

And if business sours, then those stores get closed, adding them to the collection of empty buildings that nobody wants to pay a property tax on. So guess who gets to eat that cost? The hard-working taxpaying Americans do, that’s who!

But that seems to be a common problem, doesn’t it?

People keep on talking about making corporations and big businesses pay the price for being profitable. They want to tax the oil companies for making obscene profits while Americans are getting raped at the pumps with higher prices.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The only problem is that you can’t really tax businesses, because they aren’t the ones paying them.

The problem is that businesses don’t see taxes as such. They consider taxes to be nothing more than just another overhead cost. They put it in the same category as the costs for supplies and the cost for electricity and the cost for salaries and pensions and benefits. All of the essential elements that they have to factor in when they set the price of their product.

So guess who REALLY get to pay for the taxes that we impose on businesses large and small. Come on, guess! You know who pays for it, don’t you?

That’s right… WE DO! We, as consumers of the products that we purchase from businesses large and small, are the ones that end up paying for the taxes that are assessed on them.

If you hit a company up for an additional 5% in taxes simply for being so damned profitable, then they have to find a way to transfer that 5% to their consumers. They’re certainly not going to eat the difference themselves. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are the direct consumer or if there are layers of middlemen between you and them, the fact of the matter is that YOU are the that ends up paying for it with higher prices.

And guess what happens if you “punish” the businesses TOO much? They end up closing shop and finding some other place to go. Someplace where the “overhead costs” aren’t that punitive. Someplace like China or India. And then guess what happens? Yeah, we get stuck with yet ANOTHER empty business building on ANOTHER plot of land that WE end up eating the property taxes on.

Have you noticed that the bill keeps on getting passed back to us, no matter what we try to do?

Residents in the Atlanta area have been dealing with a drought situation for the past few years. Not just this year, but for SEVERAL YEARS now, and there has been an executive order issued by Governor Sonny Perdue to get people to cut back on their water use. That executive order is still in effect as of this column, and it doesn’t look like it will be rescinded anytime soon.

So the residents and businesses in the Atlanta area have been doing that. They’ve been cutting back on their watering habits. They’ve let their grass go brown, bearing the brunt of the threats of homeowners associations. They’ve stopped washing their cars, or at the very least went to carwashes and paid to have their cars cleaned for them. They’ve done everything expected of them… only to be told that they will be rewarded for their efforts by still higher water bills! And this is coming from THE GOVERNMENT no less! The same government that has been telling people to cut BACK on their water use and then turns around and says “we can’t afford to eat the cost of this so we’re passing it on to you!”

Again… the bill gets passed back to us and we’re expected to cover it!

Health care is another big issue. Getting sick is getting too expensive for people. That’s why there is medical insurance. But even that is getting too expensive. So now they’re passing the bill… passing the bill… and passing the bill yet again. And guess where it’s going? GOVERNMENT! And guess who pays for that? WE DO!

And then we have people who are not here legally, and if they get sick then they don’t have the insurance to help pay for the costs. Or we have people who ARE here legally who also don’t have the insurance needed to pay for the costs of that health care. And hospitals are told that they have to cover those costs. But then guess what happens? Yeah, because they’re a business, they end up passing the costs on down to the consumers… which is the insurance companies, who then jack up their rates to cover the difference. Guess who ends up losing out on that? Yeah, WE DO!

It all keeps on getting passed back to US, doesn’t it? Just pass the bill… pass the bill… pass the bill… someone will pay for it eventually… just keep on passing it down.

And speaking of bills… we have the Congress and the White House that are equally hell-bent on passing a HUGE stinking whopper of a bill down to us to pay. And pay to the tune of hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars!

They want us to bail out WALL STREET! The very same greedy sell-your-mothers-to-make-a-buck institutions that set up rules that ended up screwing MILLIONS of hard-working Americans out of their homes are apparently in dire straits because they ended up screwing TOO many people and now it’s come back to hurt them. And they’re expecting US to pick up the tab for them! The very people they bamboozled!

Worse yet, our “rich friends” in Washington, who have more in common with those screw-the-poor members of Wall Street than we ever will, are telling us that it’s okay… that they have it covered. But they’re not telling us that WE are the ones that will end up eating this bill. And we will end up paying for it by putting ourselves even deeper and deeper into debt.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we can’t afford to keep on getting stuck with the bill! We really can’t! We are quickly approaching a saturation point… if we haven’t reached it already… where no amount of money that we print will help us. We are in debt up to our eyeballs to lending institutions, partly because OUR OWN GOVERNMENT told us after 9/11 that the greatest thing that we can do for America is to go shopping, and now we’re being told that WE have to bail out those same lending institutions because they can’t afford to keep screwing us over! And now our government is putting us so deep into debt that we will end up owing more to the Bank of China than to Social Security, and that will be at a time when we will really need the latter!

One of the reasons why we have massive corporate failures and massive Wall Street failures and massive bank failures is because we have effectively eliminated the one thing that kept most of these groups stable, and that was the FEAR of failure! We eliminated the RISK that goes with failure.

Let’s go back to the party of ten at the restaurant. Suppose the “rich friend” told the waiter that all the people in that dining party were responsible for paying their own checks, and that all nine participants were told so before they ordered. Furthermore, they would be told that the Maitre D was under orders to call the police on anyone who attempts to walk out before paying their own check. Do you really think that ANY of those diners would have even thought of walking out? Probably not. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have been so eager to order up so much expensive food if they knew that they would have to pay for it all.

Well the same thing needs to apply here. We need RISK put back into the equation for these financial players. That’s what our “rich friend” SHOULD have been doing, if our “friend” was really that. After all, it was “our friend” that brought us into the restaurant in the first place.

REAL friends don’t leave their friends stuck with the bill.

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