It seems that the American financial system and perhaps the entire U.S. economy could be headed toward a meltdown in the magnitude of the Great Depression. How the hell could this be happening? There is a word for it. That word is greed, a greed unchecked by any concern of the public good; criminal, outlaw greed.
Who are the culprits? Let’s start with Ronald Reagan. Move from there to Newt Gingrich and his “Contract With America’s Rich.” From there move back to the faceless economic and political theorists of the American Right. Collectively the vision of this gang was to emasculate government oversight of the economy. Hey they succeeded! Now we’ll all be paying the price of that ignorance and ideological recklessness.
First, let’s remember that all that dough, those huge amounts of it, did not simply go missing. Very little of it just disappeared. Not at all. It was skimmed off the system by the sharp operators over the past three decades and migrated – To the slippery accountants, lawyers and lobbyists, to the MBA fixers, to the oily friends of Bubba Bill, the Bushes and the likes of Jack Abramoff, the dealers and fixers, the New Paradigm shysters, suits and scam artists who were given free reign to game the system to the disadvantage of the rest of us. The business sections of most daily newspapers now read like the police blotter of an inner city; indictments, fraud, scams perpetrated or abetted by the leading financial institutions of the nation; major banks, brokerage firms, predatory credit card companies. Enron was not unique or isolated, and tax cuts for the rich were just not enough. The former Washington Post columnist William Grieder chose the biblical word “usury” to describe the massive shifts in wealth away from the have-nots and into the pockets of the already haves. Woody Guthrie’s line from the thirties fits well the situation of this new century, “some men rob you with a mask and gun, some with a fountain pen (read laptop).”
Visit any of the choice, second and third-home, waterfront/golf course McMansion regions anywhere in the country. You can calculate the extent of the ill-distributed gains. Drive the roads of the “better “ suburbs and count the plethora of over-the-top luxury cars. All this in a time of increasing numbers of poor and working poor Americans. Universal health care? We can’t afford universal health care! Ask yourself how did all of this narrowly distributed new wealth come about? Just hard work I suppose. Think about CEO compensation, and recall if you will, that little creep who waltzed away from the NYSE with a sweetheart severance deal of a mere $179 million. The national Ponzi scheme that’s marked the past several decades of the American economy is beginning to look like the fowl or foul bird come home to roost. Too late now to whitewash the walls.
Whadda I know about economics? Not much. But I remember former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Pete Dexter writing of the attempts by utility company executives to explain the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown. When challenged about his lack of nuclear expertise, Dexter wrote, “I don’t know anything about nuclear technology, but I know a lot about bullshit. And that’s what this is, Bullshit.”
After the Bear Stearns bailout, the imminent rescues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now several major banks going go belly up, I listen to the words of Dubya, of Bernake and Paulson and like Pete Dexter, I think I know what I’m hearing. Stay tuned!