On the eve of Independence Day, The Wall Street Journal ran three stories that together suggest that the decline and fall of some vital American institutions may be approaching its terminal stage. Judge for yourself whether corruption, greed and hubris have become endemic at the highest levels.
Leading the Journal‘s front page on Tuesday was news that the Fed had allowed Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to avoid flunking an annual stress test by having them agree to freeze payouts to shareholders at a combined $13 billion. The banks originally had hoped to pay out $16 billion, but that would have put them nearly $8 billion below what they needed in reserves to avoid a failing grade. The deal they struck with the Fed will effectively allow the banks to pay out $5 billion more than what they would have given back if they had decided to retake the test to get a passing grade.
‘Do No Evil’? Yeah, Sure…
The second story, which concerns the corporate giant whose motto famously promises to ‘Do no evil,’ attests that they flat-out lied. Google had said a year ago that it would no longer scan Gmail users’ inboxes in order to personalize ads. In fact, the company has continued to allow hundreds of software to developers to do just that. It gets worse: The snoops at one of those firms, Return Path, were allowed to read 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software. What can we do about this outrage? I would not insult you by suggesting that you write your Congressman.
The third story, which ran on page two, reported that about half of the students who have graduated from some of America’s top colleges and universities this year, including Harvard, Princeton and Johns Hopkins, have done so with honors. Seems that a 3.7 grade point average is merely mediocre these days. Those who have championed the elevation of self-esteem above all in elementary schools can celebrate this clear evidence of their victory.
One Simple Question
It is ironic, although hardly remarkable, that three stories reflecting so badly on America’s institutional character should have appeared in a single edition of a major newspaper on, of all days, July 3. Unfortunately, there are even more-distressing stories concerning the nation’s financial integrity waiting to be told. Chief among them concerns the delusion that our social services and healthcare systems can somehow avoid bankruptcy. Anyone who wants to debate this must first answer one simple question: Do you actually believe that Millennials and Gen-Xers will be able to shoulder the Medicare and Social Security costs of Baby Boomers who increasingly will live into their 80s and 90s ?
If you do, I’ve got some prime real estate on Mars to sell you.