Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Schadenfreude v. Apocalypse Now

By Nancy Jane Moore

Bob Herbert nailed the truth this morning:
I would like to see the self-proclaimed conservative, small government, anti-regulation, free-market zealots step up and take responsibility for wrecking the American economy and bringing about the worst financial crisis since the Depression.
Both he and I know they won't. The true believers among them are busy proposing a cut in the capital gains tax to solve the economic woes! At least they're sincere enough to allow major companies to crash rather than part from their principles.

Meanwhile the big business core -- the pragmatists who will talk against government but use it to benefit themselves -- are running around reworking the bailout, trying to get the most for their Wall Street comrades without subjecting them to too much regulation or having to fix the harm they've done to ordinary folks.

On the left, people are angry about bailing out those who caused the problem. I sympathize with this view: For years we've been lionizing the high fliers of Wall Street, who make nothing but money -- amazing amounts of money -- and it certainly gives me a certain since of schadenfreude to think of them begging for spare change among the ranks of the homeless.

But somehow I suspect that if the Wall Street crashes lead us into the depression my father and others who lived through the 1929 crash keep predicting, it won't be the bulk of big business or high fliers that will pay. It will be you and me.

When I write near-future apocalyptic science fiction, I always assume an economic meltdown not unlike this one. I am not alone -- an economic crash as well as global warming underlies Gwyneth Jones's brilliant Bold as Love series.

But recognizing the coming of a depression doesn't mean I want to live through one.

Due to 401(k) plans and other laws encouraging investment, many ordinary people have their retirement and other savings tied up in the stock market. Most of the money is in some kind of fund and the investors don't even know if it's tied up in the shaky businesses or not. A significant crash can ruin a lot of lives. And crashes on Wall Street seem to trickle down to the rest of us a whole lot faster than good times on Wall Street do.

The best fix for the situation is to put regulations back in place and improve government oversight -- in other words, undo all the destruction of our government that started in the Reagan years. I don't say go back to FDR and the New Deal; those ideas were good for the time, but now we need some fresh approaches.

Of course, that's not something even a functional Congress can do overnight, and probably not something that can be done under the failed Bush administration. And I admit that leads me to wonder why this came to crisis mode at precisely this time, when the presidential election is at its height and Congress just wants to go home.

Was it just because the Bush administration kept putting off dealing with things until they got too bad to ignore? Or was it that they hoped to rush through a plan that would simply bail out the bad guys without protecting the rest of us?

Maybe this is our October surprise. Though for now it seems to be tilting things toward Obama, so it may not be the last one.

Right now I'd like to see a short term fix that gets the overall economy breathing easier and a significant plan under what I hope is an Obama administration to fix the excesses that led to this collapse. I hope that's what we get.

Of course, it could be that total collapse will open the door to a better society. On the other hand, since I'm currently reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, I worry that either total collapse or a badly structured bailout will just open the door to an even grimmer economy for ordinary people.

So I'm hoping for a fix I can live with. I don't really want to live in one of my apocalyptic futures.


Michael Caddell said...

How much grimmer do you want it?
Farmers are convinced to hold $250,000 mortgages for equipment to better poison the land, water and themselves all to turn it into to sterilized clay. The better to raise crops for livestock feed, corn syrup and ethanol or go broke ...

I think another Great Depression is called for, it's on order and the American population deserves it for being such a wreckless pillaging society of war lovers and religious hypocrites.

World wreckers get that kind of thing yah know? Face up to it, it ain't gonna be no Armageddon or Apocalypse - Americans will have to finally learn a little humility.

What liberal rot to bemoan the lot of the banksters and war profiteers on top of this spoiled society of consumption-crazed hedonists.

Better to inspire people to learn to be autonomous, use little if any energy from the monopolies, eat good wholesome food grown by you and your neighbors.

Better to be free of all the trappings of a 21st century empire and the rotten dead moral conservatism of the previous millenia.

I'm happy the damn thing is finally falling of it's own bloated, world corrupting weight.

Obviously, millions marching in the streets against wars for oil and empire didn't stop them, tens of millions voting spineless liberals and weak anti-interventionist conservatives didn't work.

What the hell do you want?

Finish off reading Kleins's Shock Doctrine and pay special attention to the parts of recovery, where the Argentinian workers seized the factories and neighborhoods and made them into their own models of production.

We need brave people ...

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Well, being neither a war lover nor a religious hypocrite -- nor someone who played silly games on the stock market -- I don't think I deserve a depression, and neither do most of my friends and relatives.

Besides, I don't think we can count on people organizing some co-ops and worker owned businesses and magically recreating a brand new economy. If we let everything crash, odds are that the rich will get richer, the poor will become even more destitute (think many economic Katrinas), those with jobs will be afraid to rock the boat, and the middle class will essentially disappear.

Here's what I've gotten so far from The Shock Doctrine: extreme shocks -- and a depression in this society would be one -- open the door for a lot of nasty policies. I've been trying to write optimistic science fiction of late, but truth be told, if we get a crash, we are not likely to build utopia out of it -- or even a moderately sane society.

Michael Caddell said...

Again how much grimmer do you want it?

I am sure you and yours don't deserve a Depression, however that's not how the real world works, as Klein so sharply describes in The Shock Doctrine.

Did the Chileans deserve CIA intervention in their democratically elected socialist government in 1973, or the fascist dictatorship our government propped up in Pinochet? Did they deserve the draconian financial plan designed by the Chicago School of Economics, as detailed in Klein's book?

Whether it has been that intervention or the outright illegal war of aggression, the ultimate war crime as established in the Nuremburg tribunal after WWII (by an American, Justice Robert M. Jackson), which "we" did on Iraq and Afghanistan - the abused term "Main Street" USA is getting just what any empire "deserves" for it's bloody rule.

Here's a pretty good summation of this predicament:

"The boys of Capital, they also chortle in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope that no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century -- without exception -- has either been crushed, overthrown,or invaded, or corrupted, perverted, subverted, or destabilized, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States ..."

(from the Introduction - Dr. William Blum, "Killing Hope: US military and CIA interventions since WWII", Common Courage, 2004 edition)

I am absolutely against the "bail out" or as it is creepily being renamed in the press "the rescue" for the wealthy, or even the middle class gamesters, playing the markets - or flipping their homes to make money.

And Ms. Moore, I mean no disrespect, people only get "bailed out" after they are arrested and may I remind you that not one person has went to jail over this, yet.

Again, how much grimmer do you want it? Just days before this panic, congress approved $638 bln. for more military expenditures. How much more do you think the country afford without to use your words,

"If we let everything crash, odds are that the rich will get richer, the poor will become even more destitute (think many economic Katrinas), those with jobs will be afraid to rock the boat, and the middle class will essentially disappear."

That has already happened and will continue to happen until people take responsibility and bravely shoulder some work at coops, or work at getting themselves and neighbors off the centralized power grids of the monopolies.

Here's a gentle suggestion, as the crisis continues to unfold (and it will, even after the "rescue" law is passed and implemented) disconnect the cable television, arranged an affordable internet connection and read more with your friends and neighbors.

Learn to live well with less.

My name is Michael "the jerk" Caddell and I approve this message.

peace out