Can things be too big to fail?

Posted 05.20.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Working citizens just bailed out giant banks, insurance & investment corporations, shadow financial institutions, and auto companies because "they are too big too fail." We were told they will bring down too many other companies and jobs (the auto industry) if they fall -- so ordinary stiffs had to pay a lot of taxes to these corporations, in a sense, rather than to governments who are looking after the whole society.

Sure, these organizations seem "too big to fail," and, given their disproportionate influence over the world's markets, shouldn't we face the fact that they are just "too big,", period? Whether failing or not.

"Too big" is curious. Once applied to corporations, we see it everywhere. Aren't the tar sands "too big" for the environment to sustain?

If they go runny, goodbye to big chunks of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, downstream. From a satellite, the tars sands look much "too big."

Factory-fishing ships pull long, long lines with hooks, kilometers long, raking the sea of fish -- are these lines "too long?"

Ads for the newest cruise ships show them larger than any town in the Pontiac by about four or five. Imagine a disaster at sea with so many people in such a tight space . . . aren't these ships "too big?"

What comes from a recognition of "too big" as a problem all its own, no matter what it's applies to, is its obvious limits. For example, a new dam in China, threatening millions downstream, or a new mile-high skyscraper along the Persian Gulf, built on sand, are clearly candidates for a "too big" sticker. But if a single person eats himself into obesity, can we call him "too big" if no one is threatened, apart from himself? Is a Hummer "too big?"

And what do we do about the "too big" Do we need regulations? Are there fines, extra taxes, or extra scrutiny on the too-big Wall Street traders? How de we define "big" in the first place?

We don't define "big" by size, girth, or wealth. The criminality within the concept means it has to be so big that it can harm a lot of people or a lot of the environment, which means people downstream.

If that's our definition, potential for massive harm or devastation, then we have to look at nations too, and clearly the USA and China are both "too big," as are other countries. These countries are too big because when they make a mistake (Iraq, Tibet), the damage is incredibly devastating.

But lets see someone do something about them! Until they implode (USSR) or go berserk (Nazi Germany), such bigness has to be faced down by another bigness: the people of the world.

Democratic governments work more effectively when they are smaller and, thus, closer to the citizens. Big governments, like big corporations, exist because their size allows them to swallow and then exercise more money, manpower, and resources. Municipal governments are the most responsive to citizens, but they are victims of their "too big" provincial and national overseers, who disperse the people's wealth.

What is the most "too big to fail" is our planet's climate. Since it covers everyone, its failure will damage everyone. Why is Ottawa mobilizing for banks and global corporations, but not for global climate?

As for us, our ambitions can get too big, where we harm others, and when our fears become "too big" and harm others (post 9/11), they clearly harm ourselves even more.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.10