Back when I covered poverty issues pretty much full time a decade ago, people seemed to care passionately about the concept of the "worthy" poor.
Instead of just handing someone in need a buck, those folks who were obsessed with worthiness wanted to hang onto one corner of it until they made sure they approved of how it was going to be spent. They wanted to know how an individual came to need the dollar, what he was going to do with it, and how he was going to better his life so he'd never need a dollar again.
Interestingly, the people who did that and I was genuinely surprised by how many of them there were were the ones who typically gave quarters, rather than dollars.
Those same folks had some pretty high expectations, as well, as to how grateful the recipient should be to receive that dollar.
I always found it a little off-putting, because I was raised by big-hearted, though far from wealthy, parents to believe that once I give something to someone, it's theirs. And that while I might question a person to determine if I even want to give them charity, how they use or even abuse my generosity reflects on them, not me. If something really bothered me about someone, I didn't give.
When it comes to corporate charity, though, I'm feeling considerably less generous. This week, I'm contemplating the concept of the "worthy" rich.
The proposed $700 billion bailout has me seething and, while I suspect we'd better do something, there's no universe in which this makes me happy or even seems just. The average middle-class taxpayer, I figure, could also use a little bailout right about now, what with astronomical gas prices, rising utility and grocery bills, less job security and well, you're living it, too, so you know what I'm talking about. And notching the national debt up to a new high wasn't how I'd hoped to spend the rest of 2008.
I'm thinking that my children's generation is going to need one big lifeboat.
With any rescue plan for the current mess, I definitely want to know that there's strong and careful oversight. We've become too knee-jerk, whether it's slapping together a financial solution or a response to security threats. And we're too willing to put policy in place without demanding proper oversight.
I agree that something has to be done. But I find myself joining the crowd that wants a little blood. I'd like to see some money invested in figuring out how this happened and in, yes, fingerpointing. If malfeasance is found, it should be punished. And not incarceration country-club style, either.
Is there a mechanism for banning the architects of this particular series of debacles from profiting in the least from the bailout? And how realistic is it to demand salary cuts for the executives of the companies that accept bailout money? Because that's exactly what I want. If there are barriers to that, we should flatten them. Both mainstream presidential candidates are calling for measures to see that the CEOs and other executives don't just feather their nests. There's no way any of them should make millions while the average taxpayer struggles to make ends meet.
I think Wanda Sykes, appearing on the "Tonight Show" Tuesday, kind of captured my sentiments on the issue. The actress and comedian suggested facetiously that the private swimming pools in the backyards of the executives in the failing financial companies that are likely to be bailed out soon by taxpayers should become public swimming pools. We're paying for it, so we ought to be able to splash around in it.
Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]