Friday, October 10, 2008

On the Current Economic Crisis - A Rant

So here we are, at the end of America's Second Gilded Age - an age when capital ran riot, when we were repeatedly assured that business could govern itself without any need for regulatory oversight, when the stock market could only go up, when banks felt no need to capitalize their risks, when corporate executives were heroes and government was Them, not Us. And it worked out about as well is it did the first time.

The regulatory safeguards put in place during the Depression were put there not to cripple the economy but to save it. They were put there because letting business police itself is like letting alcoholics run liquor stores - they cannot resist consuming all the goods for themselves instead of making them available to the public, as they were supposed to do. And really, why is this a surprise? Businesses exist to make money. Period. They do not exist to serve the public benefit. They do not exist to do social good. They do not exist to help their workers. They do not exist to do anything except line the pockets of the people running them. You can't expect them to do anything else, because they won't. And whose fault is it when we leave them in charge anyway? Of course they're going to do what they do - that's what they do. It's our fault for knowing this in advance and letting them do it anyway. It's our fault for believing their lies and their posturing while they do what they have always done. If you put a fox in charge of the chickens, it isn't the fox's fault if the chickens disappear - it's yours for being stupid enough to believe the fox's protestations of good intent in the first place.

Not that our corporate culture lacks for apologists. No, all along the conservative spectrum are people who stubbornly insist that this is not their fault, that this is somehow the fault of government, or "liberals", or El Nino, or some such. No, they say, the Free Market is infallible and must not be meddled with. Nonsense.

It took less than a decade to get from the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to the collapse of the financial system. The federal government will once again have to bail out corporations from their own greed and stupidity, lest the entire house of cards come crashing down, only this time we're not the largest creditor nation on earth but the largest debtor nation on earth. We've cut taxes on the wealthy, destroyed the middle-class and spent billions on illegal wars, and there isn't much left to work with to solve the new crisis. The US government is now the largest holder of mortgages on earth. It will own the nations' banking system before all is said and done, a reversal of 175 years of American history. And if we are lucky, it will only take generations to undo the damage done to the nation by years of untrammeled conservative economic dominance.

My children will be paying for the arrogance and incompetence of the current administration - the people who brought you Iraq; the people who brought you the international embarrassment that was their "response" to Hurricane Katrina; the people who turned the biggest budgetary surplus in human history into the biggest deficit in just two years, even without counting any of the wars; the people who insist that they are the best guarantors of national security despite the fact that the worst terrorist attack in American history happened on their watch when they were manifestly unprepared for it and whose subsequent efforts have only chipped away at the fabric of American liberty without increasing security one iota; and the people directly responsible for the current meltdown of the largest economy on earth - for the rest of their lives, and so will their children. I find it morally offensive that such people represent my country. I find it incomprehensible that there are millions of Americans who want four more years of it.

Government is Us, people. We are Them. And the public interest had better have someone to guard it soon, or there will be no interest left to guard. It took decades for Americans to reign in capital the first time, and but for the Depression it might not have happened at all. Capital doesn't need to be abolished - it isn't evil. But neither is it good. It is what it is, and whether it hurts us or helps us depends entirely on the use to which it is put and the constraints that are placed against its predatory nature. The world needs predators. It also needs protection from them. We've fallen down on the job with that last part, and the results have been predictable.

I'm not sure where this is going, but it needed to be said. Or at least I needed to say it. That's not quite the same thing, but it will do for now.

No comments: