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.