Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Interrogation and Trial of Edward M. Liddy

In 2009 Edward m. Liddy was brought in for questioning at the NYPD police station. He was put in a small room to be interrogated. He was an old white man. He looked exactly like every other CEO the news was showing lately. They were like their own race of old white men that were spawned from an old white man cloning machine. The people of America were shocked to see all these old white men being considered criminals. America had a black male president and old white male criminals. The scene had changed.

Edward M. Liddy sat with a coffee in a Styrofoam cup. He didn't sweat. His face was neutral and apathetic. He was completely convinced that the police would see the power he contained and let him go.

Detective Socrates entered the room. It wasn't the old Socrates of busts and paintings. But a young one. The Socrates that fought in wars for his Athens that would later kill him.

Socrates sat across from Liddy and said, “165 million is a pretty big bonus?”

Liddy replied, “I know, that's a lot of money.”

“That doesn't seem unjust to you?”

“It's my money.”

“If the American government bails you out, and owns 80% of your company. Isn't that tax payer money?”

“We made that money, it's ours. It was part of the contract. That everyone gets a bonus.”

“Now, let me understand this. You wrote up a contract giving yourself bonuses even though your company isn't making money?”

“Yes, isn't that genius?”

“Now, you're telling me. That all you have to do, to get money. Is to write up a contract and have each other sign it, then give it to each other?”

“Yeah, isn't that great?”

Socrates rubbed his eyes, squinted, and said, “You don't find anything unjust about that, or at least weird?”

“My job is to make money. I'm a CEO. My job is to get myself and the other board of directors money. If the other members of the board get money, then they assume I'm doing a good job. And they don't fire me. That is my job. That is the virtue of my job.”

“Your virtue is to make money?”

“Yes, that is my job description. To make money.”

“Now, my question is: do you make money or get money?”

“I make money. That's my job.”

“Now how do you make money? Are you a printing press?”

Liddy looks at Socrates with a serious expression and says, “Are you trying to be a jackass. Do you know who I am.? I am the CEO of AIG, I was once the CEO of Allstate, the CFO of Sears Roebuck, and I've been a member of the board for Boeing and Goldman Sachs. I'm power.”

“Well, I'm a police officer. I was put here to protect. I was also put here by the people. That is my job. The virtue of my job is that I protect people from other people. I do not know about you, I do not who you are, or why you would ever considering giving tax payer money to yourself and your fellow board of directors. I do not know these things. I am ignorant. I want to find them out. I'm asking these things to find out why.”

Liddy looked pissed and said, “Do you suppose that shepherds or cowherds consider the good of the sheep or the cows and fatten them and take care of them looking to something other than their masters' good? I have a right to take their money. I'm the strong. They are the weak.”

“But you have been caught. No one is celebrating your success now. The just is the advantage of the stronger, and the unjust is what is profitable and advantageous for oneself.”

“It is unjust to take money that I've made. That is my money.”

“You keep saying make and made. When did you make this money?”

“I'm the owner. I own the money. The contracts were legal and I signed them. Therefore I made that money.”

“Now, we live in a Lockean society do we not?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Locke says that ownership comes when a person mixes their labor with something. Or perhaps makes something. Like a construction workers mixes his labor with the roads and buildings, a teacher mixes their labor with the minds of his or her students, a cook mixes his labor with food. And through mixing their labor they make something new. And because they have made something new, they get money for it. They get money because they can't trade the road they made, or the mind they altered, or the cheeseburger for such things as car insurance or Pop Tarts? That's correct isn't it?”

“Yes, that's the theory.”

“Well, we live in a Lockean society. So when a person says, 'I make money doing construction. It implies that they are doing something, mixing their labor with something. What exactly are you mixing your labor with?”

Liddy looked confused and said, “I own. I don't mix. People below me mix.”

“But you can't own without mixing?”

“I got it legitimately.”

Socrates stood up and paced the room and said, “Well, lets see if you did. You say you got it legitimately through contracts drawn up by lawyers. But that isn't good enough. What we are discussing is philosophy, not little documents. What we have is a social contract problem. People agree to the social contract, they give up certain rights to escape the state of nature. After they have agreed they commence finding a function in their society. Now we aren't like the people of medieval Europe or India, we don't have a caste system where we follow the footsteps of our parents. We have a Lockean system, we can choose when we get to adulthood what we want to do, depending on what endowments we have. But even though we do not have to follow the footsteps of our parents. We still must honor the occupation we have chosen. The factory workers makes his plastic parts, the cook makes the steak, the accountant calculates the bills, the teacher, the policeman, the construction worker, the street sweeper, and even the garbage man all honor their occupation by doing the best job they can. They learn about their jobs, they gather knowledge about their jobs, they are trained and most attempt to do their job with sincerity and well. They honor their function in society. That rule we set down at the beginning as to what must be done in everything when we were founding the city or a certain form of it, is, in my opinion justice. Surely we set down and often said, that each one must practice one of the functions in the city, that one for which his nature made naturally most fit.”

“But that is not what I was taught. I have a defense.”

Socrates sat down again. Took a sip of coffee and lit a cigarette and said, “Well, what is it?”

“The guardians taught me to be ignorant. I was told by the guardians that what I was doing was correct. The guardians allowed me to steal money. They allowed me to give bonuses for years. They allowed me to take out loans and leverage them at 35 to one. They allowed me to short sell stocks. They allowed me to gamble with normal people's 401Ks. They allowed it. I have been told since I was little that to be successful. To be honorable meant to want money. It meant to be ambitious. This country is about money, it is about success, I excelled to the board of directors of major corporations. Corporations so huge they were small nations existing within states.”

“Is that why you are too big to fail?”

“Yes, our corporations became so huge. Employed so many people. That we are like our own governments now. All we are missing is military.”

“So you are saying you built cities?”

“Yes, we built cities. Cities of workers, cities of capital, cities of power.”

“But you had no social contract. You did not consider the rules of building of a city. You're cities existed for the sake of wealth, without regard for the souls of your employees, of your stock holders, consumers, even of yourselves. You built cities without music, without theater, without philosophy. You convinced them to work for you, only for money. You convinced those who purchased your goods, to purchase your goods not because they want them. Not because it would help them attain virtue, to create happier people. No, you only wanted them to buy what you owned to sell because it would make you a profit?”

“Yes, but that was allowed. They let us do it. It was legal,” said Liddy.

“But as a member of the board of directors and having so much power did you never think you were a guardian. That you had a responsibility to your employees, stock holders, and consumers?”

Liddy closes his eyes and says softly, “I like power.”

“Your ignorance has led to vice. Which has led to injustice. It doesn't matter if it was technically legal. There is a greater contract that exists in every society. And the people, or the general will has decided you have broken it. There is a greater court than even the Supreme in this land. It isn't used often, but for you it will be used,” Socrates said.

A police officer comes in and pulls Liddy from his chair and says, “Follow me.” They walk down a long highway. Thousand of people stand by looking at Liddy. Liddy looks at their faces and doesn't recognize any of them even though they were his employees, stock holders, and consumers of his products. He had never bothered to meet any of them.

The police officer led Liddy into a large court room. It wasn't the supreme court. It was something grander and more mysterious.

There were three judges, the three great philosopher kings that still reigned Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau sitting together staring down at Edward M. Liddy.

Thomas Hobbes gave his holding: Edward M. Liddy through your actions you have allowed the state of nature to enter into society. You have behaved in a way that allowed chaos and confusion. You have broken the social contract.

John Locke gave his holding: Edward M. Liddy you have taken my theory of labor and ownership and stretched it to the point of absurdity. You have mocked me. You have gone from corporation to corporation completely apathetic to what product they even produced. You care nothing for what you own. One owns through mixing one's labor. One does not own for the sake of owning. You have turned my theory into art for art sake, ownership for ownership sake. Where is the virtue in that? My theory was that people could choose their professions, that people could find freedom and joy in life through choosing what was best for them. Picking out a function in society and applying their personal freedom to it, mixing their labor, improving the world through freedom. You have not become rich and powerful using your freedom, but using other's people freedom against themselves.

Jean Jacques Rousseau gave his holding: You decided that you were a king of men. But men grow weary of kings that steal from them. You as a guardian led them to believe you were on their side, you had their best interests at heart. But you never did. You were convinced they were such stupid weak little things. They were so ignorant. They were so childish in their desires. But they weren't. You in your hubris led them to ask themselves, 'Am I stupid, am I ignorant, am I actually in chains.' Because what do chains imply Edward M. Liddy? Chains implies they know they are capable of being free. They weren't born stupid, they were born in chains. They were put in chains by guardians like yourself who didn't view them as ends, but as a means to increase your stock price. But through your actions their chains have disappeared and they are no longer ignorant of your vice. For the chains only exist if you and people like you are capable of getting them to believe you deserve what you have and they deserve less than what you have. But you have broken the social contract and they have lost faith and the Socratic questioning has begun again.

The court decided that Edward M. Liddy was guilty of breaking the social contract.