By MICHAEL G. MANES
Manes and Associates
Editor’s note: This article was originally written in 2008 when the bottom was falling out of the U.S. economy and the housing market was collapsing.
Gravity is a law: It’s not a political philosophy, strategy, tactic, or initiative. It cannot be legislated or regulated. It merely is. It cannot be ignored.
I’ve testified in legislative committees many times regarding insurance products, regulation, and the underwriting process. Often my testimony was requested to address pending legislation that was going to make insurance more fair, less expensive, or available to anyone at any time. My canned testimony follows:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Louisiana Legislature has within its authority the ability to pass laws outlawing the effects of gravity on the grounds of the state capitol. Unfortunately, if immediately after passing such legislation you step off the observation deck of this building, you’re dead regardless of what the law says.
“Similarly, there are many economic laws and insurance principles that you can circumvent, rewrite, deny or outlaw, but, like gravity, the reality is that violations of these laws/principles still have consequences. What you are hoping to do today is noble but it won’t work in the long term.”
I write this article now having spent 30 of the most distressing and educational days of my life. These past 30 days I’ve watched two presidential conventions. Both promised each of us everything we need and want. Our only cost is to “throw the bums in the other party out.” Too good to be true? Yes!
I’ve observed two powerful hurricanes, Ike and Gustav. Yesterday I drove from Gulfport and Biloxi and saw the destruction wrought three years ago by Katrina, and I was reminded of the mother of all hurricanes Camille that leveled the coast of Mississippi. It was the worst of the worst. Coastal development then was not what it is today. If Camille hit again today, we’d forget Katrina, Ike, and Gustav.
This morning I’m watching talking heads on TV wringing their hands and our confidence in this country by reporting on AIG, Lehman Brothers, oil prices, and the mortgage crisis. This forced me to reflect on other laws.
The law of common sense: If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Making loans on houses without underwriting the person borrowing the money is stupid and will not work. Expecting regulators to force down insurance costs on coastal properties will not work; claims dictate costs. Not allowing risk takers to suffer the consequences of bad decisions undermines the capitalist system and cannot be sustained. It also threatens the rewards provided for good decisions.
The law of immediate gratification: Success and failure cannot be determined in 30 days. Rewarding and/or punishing a CEO and board for the performance of a company this month is sacrificing the most important (Long Term Stability and Performance) on the altar of the immediate/urgent.
The law of fair: Life is not fair, and the government, lawyers and your Momma can’t make it fair. I believe government and the rest of us should work for justice but forget fair. Create equal opportunity, forget trying to equalize results. “If life was fair, Elvis would be alive today, and the Elvis impersonators would be dead!” (Johnny Carson)
The law of dependency: I think it was Charles Colson who had a sign in his office that said, “If you have your adversary by the balls (excuse the politically incorrect and vulgar term), his heart and mind shall follow shortly thereafter.”
We are selling our souls to foreign countries because of our dependency on foreign oil. Forget the debate on “green and global warming,” people that really don’t like us have us by our collective testicles (again excuse the coarse nature of this discussion) as we mainline more foreign oil and sell our assets to China, Russia, etc. and mortgage our future to foreign investors.
The law of bureaucracy: If you want to evoke laughter from an audience, merely state that “I’m here from the government, and I’m going to help you.” Most will laugh. Many, if not most, people have very low expectations of government, and today we’re racing to increase its presence in our lives. Future unfunded liabilities for past interventions of government help (Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid) are estimated to approach or exceed $100 trillion. More government is less a safety net and more of a noose.
The law of skinny horses and heavy wagons: Many years ago a candidate for governor said we need more people pulling the wagon and less people riding in it. He was right. We’re fast reaching the point where fewer taxpayers will be asked to carry more of the weight of beneficiaries of taxes than they can possibly handle.
The law of the land: Our country is one based upon the opportunity “for life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a most noble goal. The opportunity is a right; a result of the pursuit cannot be guaranteed.
The law of attitude: Survivors don’t have easier lives they merely have perseverance and courage. Victims believe a person, condition, or circumstance is the reason for their problems. Survivors believe they can overcome their circumstance or condition. Understand the merchant of misery is at your door, on his way, or has just left. No life is problem or pain free. Your attitude dictates how you handle it.
The law of wisdom: Enron failed because the “smartest guys in the room” were part of the problem and not part of the solution. Today, our obsession with MBAs, numbers, technology, etc. is hurting us more than it is helping. Our long term future is built upon “we the people” and “we the people” need to step to the line (again) and let our collective wisdom “right” our country. Scar tissue works.
The law of Paul Harvey: Mr. Harvey often says, “Self government without self discipline cannot work.” He also says, “When little men cast long shadows, the sun is soon to set.” Paul is a very wise man. (He was alive when this article was written).
MICHAEL G. MANES is the owner of Manes and Associates, a New Iberia-based consulting business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 337-577-3885.