Edwin Leap: Who pays when politicians commit malpractice?

My kids love to play Monopoly. They delight in acquiring properties, making money and crushing their siblings. They play with passion and savagery. That is, until recently. A couple of weeks ago I walked past the Monopoly board, spread on the floor between my children and their dear friend Tyler.

“˜How’s it going guys?’

“˜Great game, but we all ran out of money. So, we just put some more money on the table.’

“˜Don’t tell me you”¦’ I stammered, nervously.

“˜Yep. We gave ourselves a stimulus package!’

I must admit, I was both amused and bumfuzzled. Then, I heard one of them say,’I can’t pay the rent here!’ The answer I heard made me laugh out loud, and cry inside. ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Just pay part of it.’

The young, the future in which we must invest, have learned the lesson loud and clear. ‘Throw out some money and ignore the debts you incur.’ OK, granted, they’re kids and they’re mostly just joking. But Americans have lost all sense of proportion when it comes to responsibility and money.

Someone has to clear this up. Someone, ultimately, will have to pay. But who? I know the simple answer. ‘Greed on Wall Street did all of this! Let’s send some bankers and brokers to jail; let’s tax the living stuffing out of them!’ Well, some in the financial industry need to get in big trouble. But the fact is, greed operates in all spheres of human endeavor. Even the most socialist volunteer is greedy for the appearance of virtue and the subsequent power and influence that follow. Financial greed, being tied to cash and other items, is just easier to track and easier to demonize. Still, I’ll grant that some people in the financial world have contributed to our current uncomfortable situation.

But our leaders also had their hand in the mess; leaders past as well as leaders present. A huge part of the problem lies with legislators, the executive, with non-elected functionaries and even with political activists, whose decisions have economic impact across the country. It lies with politicians who could not pause and wait; who lived by the principle,’Don’t just stand there, do something.’

The problem is, sometimes’doing something’ is worse. (Just ask a good surgeon. Occasionally, hesitation is best.) The greater problem is that politicians love to call their disasters’honest mistakes.’ Heck, even when they conveniently forget to pay their taxes they call it’an honest mistake.’

I know a thing or two about honest mistakes. In my field, they call them’malpractice.’ I pay for insurance to protect me from the results of’honest mistakes.’ If I commit an’honest mistake,’ I may just lose a whole bunch of money and respect. Even if I win, I’ll have to endure depositions and the hard benches of the court-room, waiting for my turn at the whipping post, where a plaintiff’s attorney will scour charts and scourge my soul, looking for weakness and cash.

In fact, almost anyone with a business or profession, from doctors to lawyers, plumbers to truck-drivers, knows that, in our culture, mistakes equal lawsuits. So, we’re right careful not to make them.

Not so in the hallowed halls of government. So I want to make a suggestion. My children have seen the government bailouts and learned. I think, therefore, that government has failed them. Thus, that government and government personnel have committed a kind of malpractice.

Can I take them to court? Can I drag their names through the mud? Can I expect a large cash sum (scratch that; everyone’s getting large cash sums), or even a court-mandated apology from those enlightened Washington minds? Would it be possible for someone from Washington to sit down with my kids and explain, with a straight face, why bailouts that couldn’t work on Monopoly will work beautifully in real life?

Can they expect to defend their actions before a’jury of their peers?’ That is, folks with almost no knowledge of the complexity of the job? Will they, mostly attorneys, allow themselves to be berated by attorneys? Will they ever, just once, say’we messed up, sorry”¦honest mistake,’ and then pay back the money it cost the rest of us? Unlikely. And what a shame. That would be something I’d like my kids to see. That would be some’change I could count on.’ Legislative malpractice”¦ the settlements might just replenish the budget!

But it won’t ever undo the great Monopoly bailout of 2009!

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician and blogs at edwinleap.com.

View 4 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories