The days are full of brutal news, bearing mere hints of far worse to come. The Obama administration is caught in the swirls of a history already made, and then compounded by the inanities of the real world where the niceties of abstruse economic jargons collide with street-level incomprehension and anger. Millions and billions for the rich; an eviction notice, or pink slip for the lesser souls. Treasury Secretary Geithner, while perhaps in his own little world of high-level economics is a whiz-kid, in the muddier realms of politics is simply useless. And the real world is much more the latter. Obama will be drawn down in the undertow, if he doesn’t quickly correct things by letting Geithner go and then biting the bullet with a blunt speech to the nation that indeed the entire Wall Street system is a fraud, and the sooner we acknowledge this, difficult though it may be to swallow (for some), the sooner we can begin to crawl out of the hole we’ve been placed in. Failing that he’ll continue to try to prop up a totally rotted system which, should it recover, would merely do the same all over again. Probably he could politically get away with such a radical movement now, but he seems not inclined to take such a step. He imagines, along with Geithner and Summers, to finesse the mess at hand, obscure its true depths and hopes to crawl step at a time back to some supposed “stabilized normalcy” wherein with some jiggled matters, some new regulations, America can resume again, and as President Bush counseled, get back to shopping.
Well, good luck.
Reading far too much for my mental health on all this, I have a glimmer of an understanding of what lies beneath, well, the lies. More or less what’s there is zip, nada, nothing. The Wall Street system, unleashed by Reagan and the neo-liberals, with regulations and supervision made looser and looser since 1970 something, is capitalism run wild, which frankly should surprise no one – it was all done in plain sight. It’s underlying philosophy, supposedly rooted back to Mills, is that market economies with the mystical hidden hand guiding the way, fix everything, and applied as recently to broader extremes, it supposedly solves all ethical and moral problems too boot. Those who bought into this, and very many did, have been sold the mythical bridge in Brooklyn.
Fundamentally the Wall Street system is designed to attract the greediest and most self-serving souls available. They in turn are given massive incentives to make short-term profits, by hook and crook. They are given an ever more arcane language the better to pull the wool over all eyes, perhaps including their own.
“Give a capitalist enough rope,” Marx sternly warned, “and he will hang himself.”
The present efforts of Geithner and company are intended to get the rope off the necks of those who are hanging, and along the way make sure they suffer as little inconvenience and loss as possible. So those who constructed this gigantic leveraging system, and enriched themselves to the point where mere millions are chump change to them, extract trillions from the public to Save The System. Of course, to them, this makes perfect sense, although explaining it to the hoi polloi is less than easy. Geithner and Summers lack the political and rhetorical skills to do so, and thus the job falls to Obama but even his gilded mind and tongue aren’t quite able to get themselves around this one. Even if it is rather simple to explain:
In their pursuit of profit, our Masters of the Universe constructed a highly complex system of mirrors, a Ponzi scheme to beat all Ponzi schemes, and they sold debt in as many manners as they could, of course rewarding themselves handsomely for each exchange, as is their practice. Commissions, bonuses, golden parachutes, the whole lexicon of, uh, cons. They, and their pals, in their self-serving and carefully hidden world, did “well” – to say they made millions and millions and billions of bucks. They made so much they could buy any politician and have the laws of the nation written to suit their interests. No Capital Gains taxes – i.e. for them that means no income taxes, and they have very big incomes. Rules to let them off-shore this and that account. They did precisely what Marx said they would do: they hung themselves on their own greed and hubris. And now they want the public to dig them out of their own vast pile of s h i t. They do this in a classic manner called EXTORTION. To say, they assert – and in their system they are correct – that if they are not bailed out and “the system” is not stabilized and put back on its feet, then everyone will suffer. This was Paulson’s gambit last autumn when he asked extraordinary powers to shell out mountains of money with absolutely no accountability and guarantees of no post facto legal actions. That particular balloon did not fly. However thus far, very similar ones, dressed up in different words, have not only flown, but have assisted in seeing that so far some trillion(s) of dollars have been sent off to an accounting black hole, where some one is picking up the chips (though the chips get smaller as the printing presses furiously crank out zeros, and the currency of the currency diminishes).
Nope, sorry guys, as fast as they bail, the ship is already at the bottom of the sea, just that neither captain nor passengers wish to acknowledge the matter. Not until it is forced upon them by the eviction notice, the pink slip, or coming to theater near you soon, the crack of a gun and a slumping banker or trader wondering in his last moment why there is so much hatred all around.
The problem here is that the contradictions of capitalism are unresolvable, and the idea of a change so radical as to deal with that is certainly beyond the pedestrian nature of our “leaders” and probably beyond the comprehension of most of the citizenry of the globe, except for those billions who have never been inside its vast fantasy bubble and have lived in a world that is more like that which is likely arriving soon for us all. They will understand. The rest of us will be dumbfounded as our illusions are stripped away.
As a little consolation prize, there’s always the pleasures of art: