Sunday, March 22, 2009

Get yer anger right here

First up, we have Matt Taibbi. I always take Taibbi's pieces with a grain of salt, not because I think he's nuts or even wrong, but because I usually think what he's saying is an extreme version of reality. In a slightly alternate universe, every piece he writes is a searing exposé; I'm just never quite sure that that universe is this one. That said, usually his point of view is basically correct, if colored up a bit, and usually it's the thing that's not being said. So take it away, Matt:

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

Next is Glenn Greenwald, arguing that we need more public anger:

It makes perfect sense that those who are satisfied with the prevailing order -- because it rewards them in numerous ways -- are desperate to pacify public fury. Thus we find unanimous decrees that public calm (i.e., quiet) be restored. It's a universal dynamic that elites want to keep the masses in a state of silent, disengaged submission, all the better if the masses stay convinced that the elites have their best interests at heart and their welfare is therefore advanced by allowing elites -- the Experts -- to work in peace on our pressing problems, undisrupted and "undistracted" by the need to placate primitive public sentiments.

While that framework is arguably reasonable where the establishment class is competent, honest, and restrained, what we have had -- and have -- is exactly the opposite: a political class and financial elite that is rotted to the core and running amok. We've had far too little public rage given the magnitude of this rot, not an excess of rage. What has been missing more than anything else is this: fear on the part of the political and financial class of the public which they have been systematically defrauding and destroying.

Greenwald likes Taibbi's piece, too:

Matt Taibbi's new Rolling Stone article perfectly summarizes what the AIG scandal reveals about our political and economic system, and should be read in full. In sum: financial elites own the Government and both political parties. Their money drowns Washington and their lobbyists control it. They used that ownership of Government to abolish decades-old legal and regulatory protections which previously constrained what they could do. In the lawless environment which they literally purchased from our political leaders, they were able to pillage and pilfer and steal without limit. And even now that everything has come crashing down, they continue to dictate what the Government's response is, to ensure that they -- the prime authors of the disaster -- are the prime beneficiaries, at the public's expense, of the "solutions," solutions which preserve their ill-gotten gains and heighten even further their power and influence.

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

The Illness - reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis - Insufficient gambling.
The Cure - a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis - We are so screwed.

If these guys are right, this will be the undoing of the Obama administration. Better enjoy this four years, libs.

Meanwhile, Krugman is furious--Despair Over Financial Policy:

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved. [...]

In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.

This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn’t actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won’t be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work.

What an awful mess.

I have nothing to add to these pieces: they're all good and they're all worth reading in full (particularly the Taibbi--do click through on that one). Even setting aside the financial hooliganism under discussion in these links (I know, that's a big concession), I would wholeheartedly contend that there is not enough public outrage in this country. Where are the angry mobs screaming for justice over war crimes perpetrated in their name? Where is the angry populism that everybody seems to warn against (see Greenwald) but never seems to manifest? I know we're all supposed to stay calm and avoid bank runs or whatever, but generally I think it's rather telling that the population of, supposedly, the world's model democracy doesn't seem to give a damn what its leaders are up to.

Well played, us. Well played.

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