- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Just after I reviewed Kevin D. Williamson’s “The Dependency Agenda” (link:http://www.huntingtonnews.net/35586) I came across a copy of a book published earlier this year that explores the same subject in detail, “A Nation of Moochers: America’s Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing” by Charles J. Sykes (St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, notes, index, $25.99).
Sykes, a talk show host at WTMJ radio in Milwaukee and the author of many books, says he resurrected the word “moocher” — used by Ayn Rand in “Atlas Shrugged” (I can hear screams of rage from any liberal or progressive reading this!) and used more recently by P.J. O’Rourke and Atlanta author and talk show personality Neil Boortz — because it cuts to the chase: “….’moocher’ — in all its anachronistic glory– perfectly captures the new culture of bailouts and irresponsible grasping, everything from corporations feeding at the trough to the permanent ‘victims’ of Hurricane Katrina. Appropriately pejorative and judgmental ‘moocher’ is so old it’s fresh again.”
Sykes says moochers come from all economic classes, with many super-moochers coming from what the “Occupy Wall Street” people call the 1 percent. Rich people buying taxpayer subsidized flood insurance for their multimillion beach houses are moochers, because they want the rest of us to subsidize their lifestyles on, for instance, Alabama’s Dauphin Island where, from 1979 through 2005 “the island was hammered six times by hurricanes, which destroyed about five hundred pricey vacation homes and rental properties.” Despite this, thanks to federal flood insurance, rich moochers kept rebuilding destroyed houses — and the federal government — you, me, everybody — picked up the tab. The definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome applies to this example, as well as many others in Sykes’s book.
That reference to Greeks in the headline — plucked directly from the book — suggests that we’re close to the dependency mentality that bankrupted Greece, which comes across as a nation of spoiled kids — just like us! Spoiled kids who have their medical insurance coverage extended to age 26 under their parents’ policies — and who’ve moved back into their old room in the family home.
Sykes argues very persuasively that we are very close to a tipping point where more Americans depend on the efforts of others than on their own. We’re well on our way to becoming a nation of moochers. Sykes explores the corporate bailouts, the rescue of Wall Street firms that gambled with customers’ money, including J.P. Morgan Chase, still headed by Jamie Dimon, who recently testified before the Senate Banking Committee. The senators treated a guy who lost between $3 and $8 billion in a trade gone bad with the respect usually given to Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke (undeserved respect, in my view!). On Thursday evening, June 14, 2012, Jon Stewart devoted a big part of his Daily Show to this charade. Link to the video:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/jon-stewart-senate-jamie-dimon-video_n_1599689.html?utm_hp_ref=comedy)
Stewart — whose comedy show is one of the best news programs on the tube — mocked the senators who fawned over Dimon after his company lost somewhere between $3 billion and $8 billion in a bad trade. AsHuffington Post noted, Dimon’s “grilling” “which you’d expect to be hard-hitting and stern given the circumstances, has been pretty lax on the end of the senators. In fact, a lot of them seem to be treating the hearings like an HR review, asking questions along the lines of, ‘How can we help you?'”
Jon Stewart suggested a role for moocher Dimon:
“Why don’t you just put Jamie Dimon in a chair like Cee Lo’s from ‘The Voice,’ and if he hears something he likes, boom. You just earned yourself another term in Congress,” Stewart joked.
“The truth is, the person hardest on Jamie Dimon was Jamie Dimon,” Stewart said. “See, as bad as the banks and the bankers may have been, the one thing that the senators wanted to remind everyone is that government is worse.”
“It must be fun to be a Republican senator sometimes,” Stewart said. “Because you get the fun of breaking sh*t and the joy of complaining that the sh*t you just broke doesn’t work.”
Sykes takes on Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, “progressives” in his very easy-to-read book. I did spot some shaky editing in the passage where he writes about Obama’s economic advisor Larry Summers. Maybe it’s typical of the decline in education — a subject Sykes has written about — but on pages 227-8, Summers’s name is sometimes misspelled as “Summer”: as at the top of Page 228: “Unemployment, therefore,” Summer concluded, “may not be as costly for the jobless person as previously imagined.”
As a reporter who covered the real estate industry for many years on two metropolitan newspapers — The Milwaukee Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times — I was drawn to Chapter 10, “Mortgage Madness,” which explores the misguided attempt by both Republicans and Democrats to make everybody a homeowner — to craft an “ownership society.” This is an important part of the housing meltdown, because, quite simply, not everybody can be or should be a homeowner.
The very prosperous country of Germany, for instance, has a homeownership rate of about 42 percent well below the 67 percent of the U.S. and Canada. Securitization of mortgages, variable interest mortgages; the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 during the Clinton administration (Glass-Steagall was an important law enacted in 1933 that put a firewall between commercial and “casino” (investment) banking); and approving mortgages that enabled a strawberry picker to buy a house priced north of $700,000 — an actual example cited by Sykes — inexorably led to the meltdown and the foreclosure crisis that continues today, world without end.
Putting on his sociology and psychology hat, Sykes explores the shift in the American character as well as the economy. Much of the anger of the current political climate stems from the realization by millions of Americans that they are being forced to pay for the greed-driven problems of other people and corporations; increasingly, those who plan and behave sensibly are being asked to bail out the profligate. Sykes’ argument is not against compassion or legitimate charity, but distinguishes between definable needs and the moocher culture, in which self-reliance and personal responsibility have given way to mass grasping after entitlements, tax breaks, benefits, bailouts, and other forms of feeding at the public trough. Why is it suddenly OK to walk away from your mortgage if you’re underwater? is one phenomenon Sykes explores.
My favorite quote in the book might well be from Dwayne Andreas, the now retired CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, a corporate moocher of monstrous proportions. Sykes says Andreas “orchestrated decades worth of government favoritism that benefitted his company, beginning with Jimmy Carter and extending through the Bush years. He lavished campaign contributions on politicians of both parties, seamlessly moving from supporting Hubert Humphrey to Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton.”
Confronted with his influence peddling by TV muckraker John Stossel (another guy I admire), Stossel recounted this exchange with Andreas (Page 129):
Stossel: Mother Jones [magazine] pictured you as a pig. You’re a pig feeding at the welfare trough.
Andreas: Why should I care?
Stossel: It doesn’t bother you?
Andreas: Not a bit.
Sykes adds: “And why should he [Andreas] be embarrassed? Although he retired in 1999, Andreas was still bringing home the bacon. In October 2010, the Obama administration granted a waiver allowing for a higher blend of ethanol known as E15 to be used in cars, light trucks, and sport utility vehicles, despite questions about its effectiveness, safety and impact on food prices.”
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About the Author
Charles J. Sykes is senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a talk show host at WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today and is the author of six previous books: “A Nation of Victims”,” Dumbing Down Our Kids”, “Profscam”, “The Hollow Men”, “The End of Privacy”, and “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.”