Sunday, February 22, 2009

On Wall Street today...

For years on the news we’ve heard “On Wall Street today…” followed by a recital of a bunch of numbers that the majority of us don’t have the time to understand. And when something happened in the world of any importance, we would hear how Wall Street reacted. After a while, it became evident to anyone paying attention that Wall Street ran this country and pretty much dictated the terms of the debates, such as they were. Even though the words “Wall Street” don’t appear in our Constitution, the reality of Wall Street was more important. This is really the essence of right-wing and so-called free market ideology.

Conservative social and cultural issues such as abortion are only battering rams to keep the people divided, and this should be obvious if you observe that the huge corporations that have benefited from right-wing political dominance are never averse to financing and disseminating cultural products that are anything but “conservative.” NewsCorp, for instance, which owns Fox, is in the pornography business, as is Time Warner and many other big players.

The ideology of Wall Street is that profit trumps all values. We may give lip service to “all men are created equal” and other sentiments from the era of the nation’s founding, but in practice the only motive that is considered valid without question is the profit motive. Regulation, therefore, contradicts free market ideology, as does government action towards any public good considered to be independent of profit, or potentially limiting to business. At the libertarian end of the spectrum we have the absurd naivete of Ron Paul, who thinks that the market would work just dandy if government did virtually nothing. People know that it’s dangerous nonsense, which is why libertarians never win elections. The Wall Street ideology, on the other hand, sees government as a clenched fist protecting corporate interests, maintaining economic hegemony through military might abroad while greasing the wheels for privileged elites to make money off the working majority at home. The people bought into this sucker’s game because it sustained enough of a consumer lifestyle to keep them docile, and kept us divided by scapegoating minorities and playing on fear—first of communism, later, of terrorism.

The unique moment we are experiencing now is the utter collapse of Wall Street’s claims to legitimate rule over our lives. Of course people are afraid of this. Our de facto rulers, the Big Daddies of America, were supposed to have things in hand. Now we’re expected to quake with fear at the prospects of losing our jobs, our homes, our lifestyles. But at the risk of alienating some readers, I have to confess a kind of grim pleasure at the spectacle of all these government “experts” and economists and financiers and media pundits going spastic in hysteria as they contemplate the collapse of their beloved hog trough, the American economy. No, I do not enjoy the suffering of the millions of ordinary men and women who are the real victims of their masters’ rapacity. And I certainly am not pleased to witness the complete lack of consequences for the thieves who speculated the banking and credit system into the dirt. But I do think this was all bound to happen, and the fact that it is finally happening marks a decision point for our country and the world.

One of my constantly reiterated themes since I started this blog has been the distinction between the conventional view of what’s happening as some kind of malfunction within an essentially valid political framework, and my own view that corporatist rule constitutes a criminal enterprise. I include so-called “centrist” approaches within my indictment, because the interests of the financial elites still obviate all other values. The United States treasury has simply been looted by the ruling class. A criminal element gained political and military power and proceeded to steal public wealth to enrich its own private coffers. And when the stealing reached a certain point, the system began to collapse. That’s the truth, and that’s what you won’t hear in the media or from politicians.

I’ve come to believe that one of the ruling ideas of the Cheney regime (not Bush, who was too simple-minded to do anything but obey his handlers) was that a Third World-type dictatorship would be eventually necessary in the United States if rule by economic elites was to continue. For 1% of the people to maintain a monopoly on the country’s wealth, what was left of democratic institutions had to be radically modified, ensuring military and political dominance world-wide. Thus a permanent war on terrorism, a permanent state of emergency requiring a “unitary executive” (a dictator) who would be above the law, torture and other forms of state violence in order to keep people in fear, and so forth, were all components of the rightist “vision” of the future. The enemy was not terrorism, but the American people.

The ascension of Obama represents a setback to that vision, a victory for the old-fashioned East Coast establishment with its ties to European capitalism, as opposed to the cowboy Reaganist upstarts who dreamed of total American dominance. But the danger of dictatorship is not over. The centrists who are now in charge still seek to prop up the rule of Wall Street, to somehow save the system which places profit above all other values. The alternative, we are told, is socialism, which is unthinkable, so we carefully refrain from thinking about it. The danger, however, is that these attempts to save Wall Street may only exacerbate the crisis, leading to a resurgence of neo-fascism, which will be sold to us as the only way out.

So this is an important time, because we can all see that the emperor is naked. There is a lot of anger against Wall Street right now, and that’s a very healthy thing. This anger needs to build into a demand for economic justice in which the mass of working people are released from the vise of this destructive and criminal system. Thieves must be identified as thieves and their ill-gotten gains taken from them, through taxation or other means, and redistributed downwards. Yes, I’m talking about spreading the wealth to the people who actually created the wealth—us. Our work created our country’s wealth. The bankers and speculators did not create their own wealth; they gambled ours. And lost. The vast sums devoted to military dominance need also to be redirected to our real needs—housing, education, health, infrastructure. Our anger at Wall Street can be a fuel to ignite these demands. They are not only reasonable, but necessary for the survival of our republic.


Liberality said...

A criminal element gained political and military power and proceeded to steal public wealth to enrich its own private coffers. And when the stealing reached a certain point, the system began to collapse. That’s the truth, and that’s what you won’t hear in the media or from politicians.

exactly! another very excellent post Dashiell. the rich must be held accountable or we are doomed to be a failure as a democracy once and for all.

glue548 said...

Very insightful, though I am not in a position, intellectually, to legitimately comment on your opinions.

I would, however, like to ask if would advocate the complete removal of the idea and actuality of "Wall Street"? There is certainly a middle ground between the recklessness of speculators that led to this mess and the "socialism" that conservatives denounce. I think removing, or placing far too severe restrictions on "Wall Street" would irreparably damage our economy.

I would imagine that a "Wall Street"-less America would, to exaggerate, preclude the emergence or growth of [i]any[/i] industry. We are a far cry from an agrarian, bartering society.

fiddler said...

glue548, financial business is a service business. It doesn't on its own produce tangible values, although, like any piece of infrastructure, it's needed for production. But Wall Street's concentration of power has gone to its head to the point that it thinks and acts like financial business is there for its own sake, or even that production is there for the sake of the banks and brokers. The picture can be expanded to the relationship between corporations and consumers. Put much simplified, instead of producers of goods serving the needs of the people, the people are supposed to serve the greed of the corporations.
It's these attitudes that must be removed, not Wall Street or industry as such.

fiddler said...

Just saw again Monthy Python's The Meaning of Life, and the opening scene has the most appropriate image:
(screen shot)

Chris Dashiell said...

I think fiddler pretty much answered the question. Speculation has ended up taking precedence over actual production, like the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Mauigirl said...

Great post as always, Chris. We as a country have been gambling instead of producing things of value. We need to get back to basics.

DED said...

While you belittle libertarians and their disdain for regulation, there is one thing you ignore: their disdain of bailouts. Under a libertarian system, government is prohibited from the very bailouts that we are suffering through right now. We, the people, would not now find ourselves saddled with trillions of dollars in bailouts and loan guarantees if our government took a libertarian approach. While investment banks would be free to over leverage themselves at insane 30:1 margins, they would do so at their own risk. So long as they knew the government was there to bail them out and buy their toxic assets, because they were "too big to fail," they let greed override fiscal prudence.

All the regulation in the world doesn't mean a thing if the regulators aren't doing their job. Such was the case in the previous administration. Not only did they deregulate, they shook off any responsibility in the process. But they never took away the safety net.

All Obama has done is compound matters. AIG and the bankers should be allowed to fail. By selecting Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY during the Bush years, who worked with Paulson to orchestrate the first rounds of the bailouts, all Obama has done is perpetuate the very criminal activity (bailouts) which you decried when you wrote: "The United States treasury has simply been looted by the ruling class."

Chris Dashiell said...

It's true that libertarians like Ron Paul are against bailouts. But they're also against doing anything at all, which is why I wrote that they are naive. Libertarianism basically says that if the market is simply let alone, everything will work out. In the 19th century the market was let alone, and we had child labor and oppression of workers on a scale that would be unimaginable today without the labor movement, and actual government intervention to prevent abuse. Libertarianism ends up being a TOOL of predatory capitalism. Government is only a negative in the libertarian dictionary, as if there were no common good for which the people come together as in our Constitution, but only a mass of alienated individuals without connection, at the mercy of "free" market forces.
My piece was not a brief for Obama's measures, by the way, as should be perfectly evident from my 7th paragraph at least. I will say this, however. Obama is attempting to do SOMETHING in the stimulus plan (as distinct from the bailouts)--perhaps not enough, but SOMETHING rather than the NOTHING perennially offered by Republicans and their libertarian tools.

Karlo said...

I'm also experiencing moments of schadenfreude. I wish there were some way I could unleash myself from the American economy so that I could enjoy watching it crash while I wasn't riding in the backseat.

DED said...

Yes, Dash, you're right. Libertarianism is quite guilty of being too market dependent for all of their solutions. And it forgets that government is a very large part of the market. Do the billions/trillions it spends everywhere go into a vacuum? Please! The fed gov't is the biggest consumer out there! Libertarians need to come to grips with this.

Yes, Libertarianism does typically find itself a "tool of predatory capitalism." Those points (child labor, abysmal working conditions, etc) you bring up show where the purist, anarcho-capitalist faction that dominates libertarianism fails. I suppose that's why I label myself a "moderate libertarian." I believe that some government regulation is necessary to ensure that the Founding Fathers' mission statement, as listed in the Preamble to the Constitution, is faithfully executed.

But the new century has us at the polar opposite of the robber baron days of roughly a century ago. We have too much government. More accurately, we have too many "captains of industry" directing the government to plunder the nation's fiscal resources to enrich themselves. Corporate welfare is far more insidious than any "welfare queen."

If I'm explaining myself properly, you'll see that we agree more than we disagree. I understand Obama's desire to do "something." Some of what he's trying to do I'm fine with (infrastructure, education, R&D improvements). Letting Geithner continue the precedent set forth by the previous administration of bailing out AIG and the banks I don't. Any good that comes out of the stimulus bill will likely (IMO) be nullified by the work of Geithner. I hope I'm wrong but the trillions being committed to these guys is just overwhelming.

I realize that Obama consisted only a small portion of your post. I should've prefaced my comments with, "I'm with you on this, except..."

FWIW, here is a NY Times chart on the money spent through last Fall. Here's another list from the San Francisco Chronicle that presents the same info, plus more, differently.