Call me naive, but I was always taught that the captain goes down with the ship, meaning that the guy who is steering the ship joins his future with the ship.
I’m not going to dabble in politics today. I am going, however, to boldly preach about greed, social responsibility, and economic injustice. The Old Testament deals with exactly that — the greed of the wealthy and the parallel injustice toward the poor.
Quite frankly, I’m angry about the stock market plunge, as are many of you. Politicians and CEOs got into bed with each other, and we’re picking up the ticket. Now, I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t support particular legislation. But the series of events that got us here in the first place are fair game for prophetic proclamation.
For example, the National City Bank survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the demise and comeback of Cleveland. But it couldn’t withstand the decisions made over the past decade by its CEOs who now stand to gain millions in golden parachutes.
Once a solid, trusted bank, National City saw its stock tumble and big layoffs of its workforce over the past year. A few weeks ago, after the federal government officials said they wouldn’t include it in the bailout program, the bank agreed to be bought by PNC Financial Group of Pittsburgh.
What got National City into such a mess was the aggressive move into mortgages, led by former CEO David Daberko. Daberko got the subprime bug. But when the stars started falling, the bank didn’t notice until it was too late.
Daberko retired from National City last year with a $46 million payout, although, I’m happy to say, much of that has since been reduced following a dramatic tanking of the bank’s stock prices.
The captain steers the wrong course. The ship crashes. But, amazingly, captain escapes to a new luxury liner while the rest of us are left on board, taking on water.
Or, here’s another one.
A.I.G. — yes, which now exists because of my money and your money — under pressure from New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, is trimming ousted CEO Martin Sullivan’s payout package valued at $68 million by $19 million. Now there’s a real punishment. Instead of $68 million, you’re going to get $49 million.
Yes, the insurance giant is getting $85 billion out of my pocket and your pocket. Three months after Sullivan jumps out with a golden parachute, A.I.G. was nearly bankrupt. The U.S. Treasury Department spends $85 billion they don’t have, and they decide to punish Sullivan by letting him keep $49 million. No telling the value of his real net worth.
I guess captains have no honor any more — that is, at least, the captains of the financial industry.
However, if I am honest, the oddity is that the greed we see in CEOs across America — who seemingly no longer make decisions about what is best for the company but, rather, what’s best for their own purse — is seen in all of us. Children. Adolescents. Adults. And there is no more greedy culture than our culture. Or, at least as Alan Greenspan would say, “We have a lot more avenues now by which to exercise our greed.”
That’s really the basis for our culture of advertising, isn’t it? We’re told that particular products will give us true value, true worth, and they will really change our lives. They are almost philosophical or theological in sound, these Madison Avenue jingles.
What about Buick? “Something to believe in.”
Miller Beer? “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
GE? “We bring good things to life.”
The oddity — and it’s true of myself, too — is that we don’t ever learn. When we were children and watched Saturday morning cartoons — at least my generation — you saw these toys (that really never worked like they did on the Saturday morning commercials) and the happy faces of the kids.
If you’re a little boy, those race cars zoomed flawlessly around the track with more excitement than the Daytona 500. If you were a little girl, those dolls — I mean, they would eat and cry and wet and everything. They were really life-like. But the dolls never seemed that real or the race cars that fast once they were in your hands.
Randy Alcorn, in his book Money, Possession, and Eternity, writes, “The comic strip Cathy depicts an interesting dialogue between a young man and a woman. Pointing to each item as they refer to it, first one and then the other says, `Safari clothes that will never be near a jungle; Aerobic footwear that will never set foot in an aerobics class; Deep Sea Dive watch that will never get damp; Keys to a four-wheel drive vehicle that will never experience a hill; Architectural magazines that will never be read, filled with pictures of furniture that we don’t like; and An art poster from an exhibit we never went to, by an artist we never heard of.'”
Our life is filled with greed.
“I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”
What do we live for?
Howard Batson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He holds degrees from Lander University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from Baylor University. He and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of three daughters: Ryan, Jordan and Chandler.