The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

March 9, 2009

My Turn: Government must not grow too powerful


This week's "My turn" column is by Douglas C. Gulotty, president and chief executive officer of Wilber National Bank.

The recession of "aught eight" will be remembered for generations as one of the most difficult in the modern catalogue of human suffering.

Past economic contractions carried similar suffering, but did so in an age where information was limited to three well-behaved networks; newspapers; and radio with a limited range. Today, we feel everyone's angst from every perspective.

I am a community banker. I know firsthand the tone of desperation that accompanies a family in financial crisis.

I was taught by older and wiser bankers to be empathetic; you had to understand the customers' position to offer the best solution for them and the bank.

I see good people with great credit turning in their cars because they have lost a source of household income and don't want to keep what they can't pay for. They know they will have a hard time ever getting their credit back, but they have decided this was a sacrifice they had to make.

As bankers, we do all we can to help them keep their car by sorting out a budget, reducing payments. We make small decisions together that help everyone.

Years ago on a repossession call, I removed a baby seat from a very well-kept station wagon and handed it to a wife with anger in her eyes. I blanched and looked at the husband, who had tears in his eyes. The children were frightened.

That was an effective means of teaching a new banker why you never make loans people can't afford to repay.

The Wall Street mortgage brokers, leaders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the government regulators would benefit from such training. We would have averted this crisis for a few more years, but not much longer.

We can't resist buying more than we can afford. History will look upon this time as one foretold more than 200 years ago when the founders of our country discussed the greatest perils to a new form of government.

George Washington identified the first as political parties. Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury, warned of the second _ the government using its treasury not for the good of all, but for the good of the well-connected.

The government leaders enjoy the power to allocate our wealth in purchases great and small. No society can afford to make purchases to benefit small groups through the inefficient decision process of government.

Too many competing interests keep us from a good decision, so we should limit government spending to defending liberty, civil and human rights; offering education; and infrastructure for ideas, energy, products and services.

The federal, state and local governments must rediscover the basic services they are to provide and allow the remaining decisions be made by the private sector. This means we the people have to be willing to accept fewer services from the government and directly pay for our economic decisions.

Urban congestion was a topic in FDR's inaugural speech in 1933. The government built roads to distribute the population in hopes of better use of the land. We need mass transit and light rail to serve our cities. We need roads to serve the rural areas.

The federal government is using the crisis to maximize its control over our choices. Congress passed the great stimulus bill. We need to educate ourselves about it and refuse the funding that benefits a few well-connected companies or people at our shared expense.

We must look our representatives in the eye and say we can live without the projects we don't need. Government should rebuild our decaying infrastructure for communication, transportation and energy.

It benefits us all. It should not build museums, water slides or national parks until we have a stable electrical grid, good highways and adequate mass transit.

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton saw this coming. The great productivity of our people, not government, kept this crisis in abeyance for 200 years.

We toil and sweat not to provide the revenues the political parties need to keep power. We work for ourselves, to keep and spend our earnings.

We will pay to educate, protect and provide infrastructure, then stop. All elected and appointed officials need to hear this message until they understand.

People need to look to their own resources to meet their needs, and reduce dependence on government to free resources for the private economy.

We need to be responsible for ourselves, and hold government responsible. We have to do it now if we are to end this recession and build a sustainable economy.

To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at tshalor@thedailystar.com or 432-1000, ext. 214.