Words by Woods

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My Strike

In this video, I explain why I went on strike in September.


** Draft Script **

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

That is Galt’s oath from Ayn Rand’s novel _Atlas Shrugged_. The oath sworn by the men of the mind, who with full knowledge of the meaning and consequence of their act, chose to go on strike against injustice by withdrawing the sanction of the victim. They left their professions and took their individual genius with them until Reason and Justice would return thus defending the Freedom necessary for their Production and Achievement.

That novel was fiction and written as a warning so that such an event would not come to pass. Yet, in reality, I have met such strikers. However, I swore to myself that I would not become one of them.

I came really close to going on strike once. After working more than a full day then going home to put the kids to bed, I was walking back into the office at midnight. I had to work on an emergency compliance project to address requirements of the then newly passed Sarbanes-Oxley Act. As I walked toward the door, I stopped, seething with rage as I considered all the essential projects focused on producing real customer-focused value, which had to be put on the shelf to satisfy legislative whims. So that I could work in an industry that I loved, forced by an impassioned will, I continued to my compelled task.

Years later, I attended a party at my sister’s. After she introduced me to her friends, I struck up a long conversation with an older gentleman who, with his wife, engaged in making and selling handcrafted decorative light switch covers. While this was interesting in itself, through our conversation, I found that he was a retired NASA astrophysicist, who was much too young and too vital to be retired. We engaged in an intensely passionate discussion of his former vocation. He told me that government control had sacrificed basic science in his field upon the alter of political interests. He was a striker, an astrophysicist making light switch covers.

Another time, at a lecture on literature, I met a retired surgeon who was also too young and too vital to retire at the peak of his skills. As we struck up a conversation, and I found out his situation, I desperately wanted that he not be retired. I queried him on the various causes that had driven him from his vocation, and they were all related to government intervention in health care. It was not a single issue, but burden upon burden stacked higher and higher by the legislators, until the proverbial camel’s back was broken. Even more deflating to me, the surgeon had been very active politically to remove these burdens but he was unsuccessful, and so he withdrew. He was a striker, a surgeon turned into a hobbyist.

And now, I’m on strike. After 21 years in the industry, it was difficult to explain to my coworkers, including people that I had known for that entire time. I gave it to them simply: I woke up one morning and could not think of a single reason to continue to come to work. My last day was right before Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the Feds.

We live in a time when billions of dollars of market capitalization can be wiped out by a single political speech, statutory command, or regulatory decree; and those politicians consume our lives as much as our dollars, a problem my friends have heard me complain about for decades related to my industry.

My highly regulated industry partnered with the government: taking subsidies in exchange for government directed price controls, and guarantees in exchange for government directed business practices. As we found means to be profitable, statutory and regulatory changes decreased subsidies, decreased prices, and increased regulatory compliance costs. Capital eroded with successive cycles of government demonstrating bad faith to our public-private partnership. Private resources directed by public policy to social ends until the host, the private company, had become emaciated.

I have traveled down the path upon which first President Bush and now President Obama have called private enterprises to tread; they are like the Sirens calling the productive to their deaths.

For me, the end started when the Democrats retook Congress in 2006. In fulfillment of campaign rhetoric, and without the normal process of committee review, the Pelosi Congress again reduced both subsidies and price controls. Thus, our public servants made it impossible to raise capital to finance new business; consequently, the America taxpayers, without much attention in the media, took over liability for tens of billions of dollars in financing and risk. The Bush Administration and Congress followed this formula later that same year, when the chickens of failed public policy came home to roost throughout the financial services industry.

It is illegal for me to be profitable in my trade, so I am on strike as I refuse to be a slave.

In the novel _Atlas Shrugged_, each striker chose different guises to wear in their Strike: one became a playboy, another a pirate, and another a modern Harriet Tubman. I won’t make decorative light switch covers nor will I become a hobbyist. I have been educated in politics, divined the intricacies of federal regulation, and by profession I am an Integrator, who sees the whole picture from the smallest detail to the broadest perspective, all at the same time.

I will choose my own strike path…

Update 2/19/2009:  About the time that I had written the first half of this script, or about 2.5 months after I had made my own decision, Martin Lindeskog was asking the question, “Time to go on strike?”

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  1. Jim,

    Have you read my post, Time to go on strike?

    Best Premises,

    P.S. I will soon send you an email.

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  2. I thank you for your integrity. Though I have not chosen to go on strike yet, this is the most encouraging thing I have read in months. Thank you for your courage.

    Shaun Connell

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  3. Wow. I congratulate you on your ability to know when you’d had enough, and also to (presumably) have the resources to strike (i.e. quit a paying job). I’m also very interested to learn which “strike path” you’ll choose. Your last paragraph, as a call to arms, certainly got me fired up.

    And I had never considered Galt as a modern day Harriet Tubman. That’s a great comparison… delivering the productive minds out of slavery. Awesome!

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  4. “and those politicians consume our lives as mush as our dollars”

    Is that supposed to be “mush” or “much”?

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  5. I wish you well. You are not alone in your disenchantment in being told to follow the rules rather than consider you fellow traders requirements.

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  6. I am a bit confused by this sentence:

    the Pelosi Congress again reduced both subsidies and price controls.

    “Reducing” those sounds like a good thing. I assume that “reducing” in this context means lower numbers, not lesser regulation — i.e. they were reducing subsidy dollars and forcibly lowering prices, thereby killing your profitability?

    I too am interested in where your road takes you, and wish you well.

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