Breaking bad breaking the bank



When a man first veers permanently from a virtuous path, Southerners call it “breaking bad,” which is also the name of the AMC television series created by former “X-Files” producer Vince Gilligan. Currently in its second season, the show serves as a fitting metaphor for our state and federal governments’ slide down the slippery slope of Bailout Mountain and increasing intervention in the private sector — for once character Walter White breaks bad, each illegal and immoral action prompts several other increasingly more heinous and illegal acts. Similarly, when government betrays free-market principles by throwing money at problems in the private sector rather than allowing the system to right itself, a veritable Pandora’s Box of unintended, negative consequences ensues.


A television show about a chemistry teacher moonlighting as a methamphetamine manufacturer may not seem to hold many lessons at first blush, but “Breaking Bad” reveals what can happen when a manqué — a person of unrealized potential — attempts to feather his family’s nest egg with ill-gotten gains after he discovers he has a terminal illness. Viewers can easily substitute White’s predicament with the sense of emergency heralded daily by our civil servants, and that such dire circumstances require desperate measures.


As suggested by his name, Walt White is initially a good person as one can assume are our many elected officials. Walt accompanies his brother-in-law Hank, a DEA agent, on a raid where thousands of dollars in drug money are confiscated. This inspires Walt to apply his chemistry skills to making a quick buck after he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Getting rich quick after its too late to do it with an honest living is a well traversed path by our politicians who prop up dying industries with taxpayer dollars when allowing bankruptcies might have been healthier for all involved.


Calculating that he needs to raise nearly $800,000 to support his family after his death, White locates a former student and small-time drug dealer and blackmails him into selling his product on the street. This simple plan, however, is rife with complications. White quickly adapts to the life of a criminal that includes theft of the necessary methamphetamine ingredients and school laboratory equipment; murder and the comically nauseating disposal of his victims; a double life that requires him to lie repeatedly to his loved ones to cover his other crimes; and the graphically depicted human wastage wrought by methamphetamine use.


As with government agencies that bestow bailout monies to companies with no assurance that those companies won’t return to the trough — in essence acknowledging “in for a penny, in for a pound” — White compounds his crimes in each episode, throwing in his lot with psychos, addicts and dealers. Walt White, meet Bailout Nation. You’re both in too deep to quit.


“Breaking Bad” is a cautionary tale of solving problems with hubris rather than judgment. It contains horrendous violence, profanity and copious drug use and will most certainly not be every viewer’s cup of tea. But once government takes it upon itself to seek utopian goals, there’s an implicit concession that the promised ends justify the counterintuitive means of attaining them. The rush of government promises of salvation from current ailments is similar to a methamphetamine rush — the euphoria is only temporary, the cause is artificial and not organic, and the end result is a malignant addiction to an ever-growing government bureaucracy. Walt White serves as an adequate symbol of the proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s a lesson that our legislators and regulators should take to heart.


(Bruce Edward Walker is communications director for the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute based in Midland.)