“There will be a time for [Wall Street executives] to make profits and there will be a time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time.” So said President Obama on January 29 to reporters (source: “The Kudlow Report,” CNBC).

So we receive President Obama’s declaration that Wall Street bonuses must be cut. According to him, now is not the time for those bonuses, although he allows that there will be a time – determined by him – when bonuses will again become acceptable.

When Obama arrogates to himself the authority to determine whether, when, and in what amount payments shall be made by an employer to an employee, do not think that such power will only be used to lighten the wallets of Wall Street executives. Such a power demanded today becomes one that will be used in the future to cut the wage or bonus that any American is paid, if doing so should please the Presidency.

If you doubt that, consider that at several times in history the American government fixed the wages of nearly all Americans. It happened during World War II and it happened again in the early 1970s. It is neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue, with the former happening under Democratic President Roosevelt and the latter under Republican President Nixon.

It needs to be said, because Americans have become so used to having their liberties encroached: a man’s ownership of his labor is parcel of the ownership of his own life. If he cannot freely contract with an employer to offer his labor at voluntary, mutually agreed upon terms, then his life is no longer his own. Instead of being a free agent offering his services at a voluntary, mutually agreed upon rate to a willing employer, he becomes a serf, whose labor and life is controlled by his lord and master. That is the meaning of Obama’s attack on Wall Street bonuses. Attacking the private right of employer and employee to voluntarily agree on salaries and bonuses is an attack on the freedom of both parties. In calling for Wall Street executives to be treated like serfs, President Obama is setting the precedent that will make all of us serfs in the future.

Do not be fooled by the issue of government bailouts. Government had no right to hand out that money. It does not belong to government; it belongs to each one of us. Moreover, this crisis would have ended on its own without any government “rescues.” Recessions always end through the economic adjustments of all participants in the economy. It happens on its own, without a “rescue” or despite it. The current recession is no exception and will end, despite Presidents Bush and Obama’s profligate showering of trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on the problem.

However, government committing a wrong by handing out bailout money does not give it the right to compound its wrong by using that as a justification for further violating the rights of employers and employees. Government should not be handing out bailouts, nor should it be telling employers whether they can pay bonuses.

No one, including President Obama, has the right to forcefully tear apart the private employment relationship between employer and employee.

When a private individual does it, it is considered fraud or theft. When the President does it, he takes on the scary personage of a dictator.

 

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Raymond C. Niles

Raymond C. Niles is a Senior Fellow the American Institute for Economic Research and Assistant Professor of Economics & Management at DePauw University. He holds a PhD in Economics from George Mason University and an MBA in Finance & Economics from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. Prior to embarking on his academic career, Niles worked for more than 15 years on Wall Street as a senior equity research analyst at Citigroup, Schroders, and Goldman Sachs, and as managing partner of a hedge fund investing in energy securities. Niles has published a book chapter and numerous articles in scholarly and popular publications.

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