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The Bigger They Are . . .

January 31, 1988

If Isaac Newton had a theory of economics, it probably went something like this: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Take the case of John Connally of Texas, for example. After the highly publicized auction of the Connallys' household goods that were collected over years of wealth, power and comfort, Connally still owes more than $40 million.

For most people it is difficult to conceive of having personal possessions that would sell at auction for $2.67 million. But to still have that much debt left over surpasses even Newtonian concepts of mathematics. "I feel numb," said John Connally. Who wouldn't?

Even for the average American who never would dream of knowing such wealth, Connally's fall must trigger some sort of emotion--mixed, probably. Here was, after all, a man who served as governor of Texas, during which time he was severely wounded by the same rifle that killed John F. Kennedy. He was secretary of the Navy and secretary of the Treasury. If it can happen to John Connally, it can happen to anyone.

After Connally's great fall, triggered largely by a plummeting oil market, bankruptcy law leaves the Connallys with 200 acres and $30,000 worth of household goods. If needed, this is a reminder for all that a free market economy works both ways. As President Reagan says, it allows any individual to fly as far and as high as he can. On the other hand, it allows him to lose almost everything, too, if greed is overweening, if financial judgment is bad or if luck runs out. That's the American way.

One can argue that Connally allowed it to happen to himself. Not so for the little person who toils away to meet the mortgage and the grocery bills each month, and who goes to work one day and finds that because of takeovers or other free enterprise causes his job simply no longer exists.

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