Failing Upward [Reader Post]

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pete stark

A few weeks ago Cafe Hayek published a letter that cofounder Don Boudreaux had sent to NPR in response to an interview with outgoing Congressman Pete Stark:

Here’s a letter to NPR reporter Julie Rovner:

Ms. Julie Rovner
Morning Edition
National Public Radio

Dear Ms. Rovner: In your interview yesterday with outgoing U.S. Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), (“Pete Stark, Health Policy Warrior, Leaves A Long Legacy“) you asked him what he’ll miss most about being in Congress. He replied: “It’s one of the areas in which you get up … in the morning and look at the mirror … and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do something today that’s going to make life better for somebody.’ And that’s pretty neat…. When I was a banker I’d get up and say, ‘Whose car am I going to repossess?’ or ‘Whose house am I going to foreclose?” and that didn’t start you out on a very nice approach for the rest of the day.”

If true, Mr. Stark was a lousy banker. Only unsuccessful bankers spend so much of their time repossessing cars and foreclosing houses. Had he been a better banker, Mr. Stark would today recall, not his disagreeable efforts to cut his losses by repossessing cars and foreclosing houses but, rather, his successes at earning profits by helping other people – successes such as directing capital to entrepreneurs who create new products and expand economic opportunities, or successes at arranging mutually agreeable mortgage terms that better enable responsible people to buy homes.

That Mr. Stark evidently failed at banking suggests that much of the good Mr. Stark today imagines that he did while in Congress very likely is no good at all. The reason is that these “good” deeds that Congressman Stark performed were funded with money forcibly taken from others rather than voluntarily paid or entrusted by others to him. Someone as apparently unable as Mr. Stark to help his fellow human beings when he must deal with them voluntarily is hardly likely to succeed at helping people when he gets to confiscate their money and order them about.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Amen. I always thought that one of the ways that banks made money was to loan money out for repayment and to make a profit off of the interest charged for those loans. If every day a banker is waking up and asking which loan he showed poor judgement in offering and now has to act on it he probably shouldn’t be in the business of deciding who is worthy of receiving a loan. In Stark’s defense I don’t know what kind of loans he worked in. On the auto side maybe he worked with high risk car loan applicants with poor credit and had a higher number of repossessions (and charged a higher interest rate to offset those losses) than the normal banker would have. And maybe on the mortgage side he was forced by The Community Reinvestment Act to offer mortgages to people who were unlikely to ever pay them back. But what about the people who did pay the bank back and were now able to enjoy a car or home that they otherwise could never have afforded? Personally, I’m grateful to the lenders who were willing to help me when I was looking to buy a car and a home. In fact, I was so grateful that I paid on those loans as we agreed, and with interest. In both cases the banker made my life better, and based on the terms of our loan, I assume that my loan payments have helped the bank’s bottom line – a win for both sides. I’m not trying to canonize the banking industry – like any other they have their share of stupid, greedy, and incompetent players. And in fairness to Stark I think that absent proper health insurance reform, COBRA (which he helped to craft) assisted people who lost their jobs to keep them from losing their health insurance as well. What bothers me is when some fool like Stark takes a cheap swipe at an easily demonized industry while pretending that his chosen profession is something far more noble. And just as bad is Rovner failing to challenge Stark on it.

Given how Congress has performed in terms of managing the public finances, especially in the last twelve years, it looks like Starks is every bit as effective as managing money now as he was in his days as a banker. But his main legacy? “Stark may not be a household name, but he leaves a long-lasting mark on the nation’s health care system.” And yes, that includes the Affordable Care Act. So if you liked the plan you weren’t allowed to keep, appreciate that your insurance rates that went up, are losing hours or your job due to compliance costs or are a business owner worrying about how to deal with this new regulatory maze, to paraphrase one of the great orators of our time, “You should be thanking him.”

Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog

Blogging by the credo of "Making the world a more offensive place, one blog post at a time", Brother Bob started writing posts around the beginning of the Obama presidency over at Brother Bob's Blog. A born-again Existentialist and self-professed libertarian with conservative tendencies, he has ironically chosen to live in the Washington, DC area - deep behind enemy lines. He has always loved history, and spent eight years volunteering as a tour guide on weekends, giving over 200 tours to roughly 2,500 mostly foreign guests. His tours were highlighted by stories generally not found in the history books or most other tours, such as the importance of the Battle if Antietam, the origins or Arlington Cemetery, and dispelling the myths of FDR's New Deal. Although his favorite subject to blog about is Economics, as seen in his Economics for Politicians series, his posts try to address angles that other conservative writers and the mainstream media (naturally!) miss. "There's no point in putting up a post on a subject that someone smarter than me has already written". He believes in the "Happy Warrior" approach, and tries to inject humor in his posts, sometimes successfully. Two such examples are his posts comparing the modern left to the horrible Star Wars prequels, and analyzing the laments of a DC woman in search of a feminist boyfriend. Brother Bob lives with his very patient wife known as Sister Babe, and their fantastic son. Little Bob. Little Bob is also the reason that being a tour guide came to an end, as spending Saturdays raising a son takes priority over giving lectures to foreign visitors on the folly of Keynesian economics. BB is also grateful for the opportunity to take his place among the outstanding writers at Flopping Aces, appreciates every person who takes the time to read his posts, and especially those who join him in the conversation in the comments.

4 Responses to “Failing Upward [Reader Post]”

  1. 1


    I find the comments very telling, and quite indicative of the progressive mindset. In private enterprise, your business centers in exploiting others. But government is where you help people. Government = Good, Business = Evil.

  2. 2


    “The law of unintended consequences” afflicts many in politics.
    In order to “do good,” as they see it, they enact legislation, believing that they will change hearts.
    Laws do not change hearts. See the history of the Jewish people.
    The argument is always the same: do laws do good, or do they restrain evil?
    Our Founders came to understand that laws can only restrain evil, and thus that too much government was bad. So the Constitution established a limited government.
    The do-gooders have ignored the Constitution and invented for themselves a Government which can “Do Good.”
    For their troubles they have produced a Government which does evil at every turn. And the low-information voters lap it up, even though it is cyanide-laced kool-aid.
    I will not bore you with the evils. Suffice it to say that when poverty increases, when more persons than ever get food stamps, and where jobs are not available, things are not good.

  3. 3


    Mathman: Your comments of the understanding of our Founders regarding the role of laws were right on. The low information voters should read or re-read the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, with some honest thought, not”Yes, Bu….t” thought. Of course, reading those documents with an open mind would not be suggested for those of them with heart conditions. Much to distressing.

  4. 4

    Nan G

    Both comments 1 and 2 made me think of British Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan’s speech in 2009 about why the banks failed and the stimulus failed and how the Occupy crowd had it wrong.
    And WHY don’t we have communicators like him from the USA?
    Because liberals viciously attack any conservative who might become a great communicator because they know their policies are failures built on lies meant to ultimately enrich themselves.
    The truths might be out there, but the truth-tellers are as marginalized as the Left, with their media in their pocket, can make them.

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