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Tom Gerdy

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Is Our Destiny Pottersville or Bedford Falls?

Posted: 12/28/11 04:20 PM ET

Yearly, I take time before Christmas to watch It's a Wonderful Life. This year was no different. As George Bailey's brother, Harry, raises a glass to toast his brother, saying, "A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town," I again had to wipe away some tears. It gets me every time because I still believe that living as George makes you rich.

I saw one thing in a different light this year as my wife and I watched Frank Capra's classic tale. It centered on the scene in which George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, gave the rich, greedy, old miser, Mr. Potter, a piece of his mind. Potter was trying to take over the Building and Loan, one of the few businesses he didn't already own. Potter was talking trash about the people the Building and Loan helped buy homes.

The passage is long but worth including. George said,

Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book, my father died a much richer man than you'll ever be!

I have spent the working hours of my life as a carpenter and a building contractor in the blue-collar world. I have always loved creating with my hands and helping people build their homes. I have been very fortunate to earn a living for more than thirty-five years in the building trades. However, the last several years, it has been a serious struggle. I have watched tradespeople around me fall by the wayside, as the economy and the lending environment became less and less conducive to running small businesses.

Many potential construction projects have been crushed, as the lending pendulum has swung from too liberal to the extreme conservative end of the spectrum, making it almost impossible to borrow money. Small businesses are now paying for the greed and dollar-worshiping of the lending and investment institutions. Sadly, those who created the problem still are awarded ridiculous bonuses, but we will address that sin another time.

Small businesses have always been the backbone of the economy in America. During much of our country's life, our leaders recognized the magnitude of small-business contributions to our growth and stability. They created a business friendly environment because our economy thrives when small business thrives.

The current leaders seem to have forgotten this piece of our economic puzzle. Whenever our leaders face a revenue shortfall, small businesses seem to have a bull's eye painted on their front doors. We are constantly the target of additional fees and taxes, making it tougher and tougher to remain afloat. At the same time small businesses are taxed out of business, huge retailers are given unimaginable tax breaks and incentives to help them set up shop. The playing field is no longer level, and the big-dollar players have taken control.

As I heard George Bailey take a stand against Mr. Potter, for some reason it made me reflect on the growing chasm between the classes in our country. Recent history has made me feel like "the rabble," or one of the cattle to which George Bailey refers. I also cannot help connecting the current Washington leadership and Mr. Potter. As greed and money controlled Mr. Potter, we are witnessing the same problem with our elected officials. The people running our country seem to have no interest in hearing what happens where we are doing our working and paying and living and dying daily. Their money and positions have made them blind and deaf to what most of us face daily. Out of touch is an understatement. It is a sad truth, but when the dollar becomes the master, the heart often files bankruptcy.

I want to make one last connection between the 1946 movie and the status of our current government. At one point in the movie, George is shown what would have happened to the beautiful town of Bedford Falls if he wasn't around to stand up to the power and greed of Mr. Potter. He takes a tour through the town that was renamed Pottersville and it isn't a pretty sight. So now, I must ask, are you willing to stand up to protect our "Bedford Falls" or are we destined to become Pottersville?