“Argumentation and debate are the two primary ways of decision. What you learn is the world is all grey.” Michael Finley grew up in Houston’s fifth ward, the poor side of town. “In 1967 I realized my grammar was holding me back from being taken seriously. Houston had transfer systems to avoid busing. I went to another school and honed my debating skills.” Michael went on to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, became student body president and joined the debate team. “We spent one whole year on a single question, which we had to debate from each side. Look at the decision making process. The hardest things are the beginning: define, and the last: implement. The problem is, as a statesmen, you can’t address issues in a grey way.”
Michael’s worked for himself his entire life. He started his career in architectural woodwork, then got into exploration of helium, tungsten, and oil. Over the years he’s owned several companies, had staffs large and small. These days, Michael runs a lean operation. He lives in Galveston and has an ‘office’ in Houston: a two story condo in a loft building overlooking Minute Maid stadium and the city skyline.
“Houston is a dynamic city, a city of opportunity. We’ve always been part of Texas and the South but we’ve never had the racial or divisive problems that happen in other areas. Houston is a place to work. We are all about economic opportunities.”
Yet Michael’s comments regarding his own business focus on perceived restraints rather than opportunities. “I’ve worked for myself my whole life and I’ve been screwed by both political parties. We are just over regulated, but we regulate what’s politically expedient or has a secondary benefit.
“Take energy. We have a list that says, ‘Do This’ and ‘Don’t do that’. I think we’re a responsible industry. If I hit a bird, I get a fine of $10,000. Windmills get exempt from killing birds.
“We won’t make CNG cars but we create ethanol, which takes six gallons of water per gallon to produce. Not to mention that ethanol disrupts the price of corn worldwide. All because the politicians won’t touch Iowa.”
I asked Michael whether our country should have an industrial policy. “We have no energy policies, regardless of party. We’ve had Texas Presidents who couldn’t do it. Through most of college I debated economics. I believe a free market system is the best system because it allows for the nature of man. I haven’t seen a more efficient system.
“Big government is a velvet glove on a ten ton arm. It has no sensitivity. At a federal level, we need a standing army. We need to have things like highway system. The Federal government should only do what it can do. It should decentralize as much as possible.”
Michael’s ideas of limited Federal intervention are not unique. Unfortunately, beyond maintaining a standing army, few people agree on what activities the government should oversee and which it should hold at arms-length.
Michael dislikes the direction of public education, “The biggest problem with education is teacher’s unions. There’s no accountability. There are problems in the growth of administration. It is the nature of bureaucracy.” Yet he decries the loss of other institutions. “We’re tearing down things but not replacing them with anything else. We’re pulling apart the Catholic Church, corporal punishment, discipline of all sorts. But what have we replaced them with? Fear and divisiveness.”
Michael thinks the racial divide in our country is overstated. “I was pleased that Obama was elected but I think he’s been so divisive. In race relations he has consistently taken positions without diligence, starting with his defense of Louse Gates’ arrest in Cambridge. I think maybe twice in seven years he’s said we have to come together. The issue is socio-economic, not race. Race is used as a divisive correlation.”
Michael gave me much to ponder as I cycled east from Houston heading toward the Deep South. Human nature seeks to preserve what works well for us and to dismiss or dismantle that which does not serve our personal interest. As a self-made man who rose from a meager background to affluence and influence, I admire Michael’s tenacity, grit, and ability. But as another man of similar age and ethnicity who’s managed to climb a few socio-economic rungs myself, I’m skeptical of anyone who believes he’s made it on his own. Every successful person receives assisting hands along the way. The world is not the meritocracy we might like it to be. It’s rather grey.
How will we live tomorrow?
“First, I hope its vertical, that beats the alternative. And with more wisdom.
“I spent a great deal of my youth seeking truth. Around age 19 I was interested in the difference between hope and faith. I erased my hard drive and looked for my first truth: ‘There are no absolutes’ Unfortunately, that’s an absolute.”