Sorry. The question in the heading of this post isn't something I can answer. I recognize that the banking and insurance bailout which started with Bush's Paulson and goes on with Obama's Geithner has not produced the promised new jobs, or held on to old ones, or made the lives of most Americans more secure. Am I asking for too much too soon? I don't think so. Nowhere do I see the spark of concern for the unemployed that would - for me - indicate the beginning of an economic and a moral recovery. America's celebration of Susan Boyle's moving performance on British television was probably connected with the public's feeling that we are fast becoming a nation of underdogs - and we want to see some of those so callously discarded by society triumph at last. But you'd have to search hard to find that attitude in American business today.
The major players in business are enjoying their bailout by hoarding the government and the taxpayer's largesse while families are being decimated by pink slips and sweet talk by Human Resources - a division of business that is fast becoming an oxymoron. Trust me I am no tea-party recruit rebelling against the cost of the bailout to taxpayers. My Dad always taught me that it was a privilege to pay taxes - it meant you were earning good money and paying your share of the cost of living in this country. But he had lived through the Great Depression and kept his small business going through the thirties and forties without firing anyone - including some handicapped workers - people who could not have survived without their jobs. For me the anti-tax Republicans are merely depressing in their hatred for the very government that can - if it has the courage - together with business provide practical solutions at this time. This moral obtuseness on the part of business regarding its loyal employees didn't start with this recession In the roaring nineteen eighties and early nineties when mergers were the fashion, the way the so called financial geniuses made their mark was to buy a business on leveraged money, fire much of its staff, and on the savings of salaries declare their profits and their sagacity, even if that business was later to flounder as so many did. The first years would show a profit and that was what the financial wizard's prized. And since the labor movement was moribund they were allowed, indeed praised for their heartlessness. Donald Trump's "You're Fired" became the catchword of the time, and so it remains today.
What we now see is not the loss of jobs by men and women who are untrained to compete in the modern world, but the firing of people who have all the requisite skills - the very best and the brightest who can add the most to our economy are being given the pink slips. And our government seems powerless - indeed indifferent to the Donald Trumpery of this recession. Where, one wonders, were the moral strings attached to the bailout? Where were the laws requiring those institutions to hold on to the maximum number of employees - even at the radical idea of lowering salaries for all - and declaring a moratorium on salaries for the chief executives of the companies?
So many of the recently fired - exhausted by their search on the internet for jobs that aren't there -- turn to the free-lance life; consulting where they can, or trying to establish a new business of their own, providing they can find the funding for it - funding that seems to have been swallowed up by those great banking whales and AIG. The freelance life seems to be the new American way. Well, I spent a lifetime living the American way, and for a long time it was plenty good for me. As a freelance writer starting in the early sixties and going on through the nineties I went through the feast and famine existence of the free-lancer in America. But this was a life I chose. It was not imposed upon me. I'd worked at office jobs as a young college graduate and I knew it was "Hi-diddle-dee-dee a freelance life for me" as Pinocchio, my childhood idol, would say. Okay it was "actor's life" - but the spirit was the same In any case, my choice was not for everyone. Not for most people. That decency exists among American workers is proven time and again. My niece, Jen -- whose husband John McNamara, a hero fireman at the World Trade Center cleanup and Katrina, and who has been undergoing years of cancer treatment -- needed to take time off from her job to be with the ailing John and with her three year old son, Jack. Her fellow office workers donated their vacation salaries to her so that she would have that precious time to be with her family and not lose her needed income. Wouldn't it be wonderful if business itself shared some of this ethical behavior in these difficult times? If so, maybe this recession, for all its pain might be a lesson in decency rather than a sign that so many at the top are still caught in the old trap of crap that begins with "You're fired! And I'm still here."