Big Government Bailouts, Big Executive Bonuses: The Lessons Of Horatio Alger

October 22, 2009
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The President and Congress demanding no bonus payments, pay cuts, and claw backs of some of the executives of companies who received big government bailouts – and continue to benefit at the egregious exploitation of consumers, taxpayers, investors, and employees, alike – is just not enough.

Horatio Alger, most assuredly, is turning over in his grave with the “rags-to-riches” rise of the executives of some of the nation’s largest corporations and the greedy, fraudulent, and pernicious way in which they have gotten there.

Alger, certainly, cannot be resting in peace.

Even though he has sold more than 250 million copies of his books worldwide, perhaps a few of them need to be required reading for present, and future executives, and the boards that are responsible for governing them.

Despite their party affiliation, elected officials in Washington need to exercise moral courage with the enforcement of strong laws that will mete out the right punishment for the excesses, abuses, and crimes perpetrated against ordinary and trusting citizens – many of whom still believe in the Horatio Alger way of doing things.

With all the financial bailouts and assistance extended to some of those same perpetrators, born by hard working taxpayers, current elected officials have a moral duty and obligation to do more than demand pay cuts, claw backs, or no bonuses.

As we assess the candidates running for elective offices in 2010, we need to ask them a direct question, “What will you do to ensure that employees, investors, and their families are not exploited by illegal and unscrupulous business practices?” In addition, we need to listen very carefully to the answers.

In the short term, not only has unsuspecting older Americans been robbed of the hard-earned money they depended on for retirement, other workers watched college funds for their kids dissipate, while money saved to buy their first home evaporated.

If our President and members of Congress fail to do the right thing, it might seriously undermine not only our free enterprise way of life, it might mortgage our future because as our young people watch what is happening, they may find it difficult to continue to believe in some of the fundamental tenets that keep our Republic strong.

No matter how many Horatio Alger books they read, they may easily conclude that they refer to a bygone way of life, with characters whose belief systems and moral values are no longer applicable in a business world that seems devoid of them.

What a tragedy, should this occur.

photographic portrait of Horatio AlgerEach year, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans hosts an annual awards dinner in our nation’s capital, and in December, they will announce the 2010 recipients. The Horatio Alger Award is given to ten Americans for their outstanding contributions in their fields of expertise. Since its inception in 1947, they have honored many elected officials and businesses.

The Association offers many programs to bring together Horatio Alger heroes of today with those of tomorrow. Young people receive opportunities to explore first-hand how America’s free enterprise system works. During the National Scholars Conference, held in Washington, D.C., students saw firsthand how our executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government work.

If we are successful in preventing a melt-down of our economic infrastructure, participant in future Horatio Alger conferences will have much to discuss and many lessons to learn. If our elected officials and justice system have done their jobs, then hopefully, the real corporate crooks will be in jail and systems will be in place to make it difficult for those who are so criminally inclined to run amok again.

It would do us well too perhaps hold Horatio Alger workshops for young people all across America to teach them what constitutes a good code of business conduct. To remind them that despite what they see in many of our corporate leaders, there is a right and decent way to go from "rags-to-riches,” and it is not always about how much personal wealth you amass. It also involves how you help and enrich the lives of others, regardless of their race, ethnicity and cultural uniqueness.

There are many elected officials and business leaders who exemplify the very values that we need to pass on to future generations.

Will the Horatio Alger Distinguished Americans please stand up?