05 January 2010

Class Warfare American Style

Matt Taibbi's reaction to the ZeroHedge story with regard to Turbo Tim's lifting of the government support on Christmas Eve for the GSE's was exactly my own. You can read it in its entirety here.

What he does not overtly say is that this is class warfare, and it is becoming worse in the US than at any time since the 1930's. And the outcome of this will be a fundamental test of the US commitment to its republic.

The media stokes the viewing public into emotionally-based and virulently distracting arguments about liberal versus conservative, while the gentried class skins them all alive.

One only has to watch the 'news shows' on American television to see the lack of real content and discussion, with diametrically opposed 'strategists' hurling sound bytes at each other with all the depth of a schoolyard standoff.

It is comfortable to retreat into an 'us versus them' view of the world, and the noble class in the States is all too ready to facilitate that appeal to the darker emotions. People know deep down that it is a scam, and believe that it is easier to go along and get yours while you can, than actually attempting to change a system grown corrupt in an aging empire.

This explains more than one might imagine. Why do the economists continually excuse outrageously unsustainable economic behaviour and financial systems that are as productive as games of chance? Why do some media outlets obviously take sides and pander to the worst biases in their viewers, supplying them with easy reflexive answers to any suggestion that something might actually be wrong? Why do adult people fall for this and regress to childish name calling so readily?

It is because they are afraid. They know the system is broken, that the country is in for hard times, and that the work of reform is going to be difficult and painful. It is so easy to adopt whatever red or blue meme, whomever you think is going to deliver undeserved wealth to you, or at least safety and position. As always look for a fallguy, some identifiable and out of favor group. The search for scapegoats may be be violent.

At turning points such as these, when the time is right, a 'great man' will stand up and many will follow. Who will it be, and what principals and principles will they represent? Obama was such a one, but he is obviously like the character of Robert the Bruce in the movie Braveheart, who chooses practically and cynically to support the nobles. He is finished; no one will follow him as his betrayal becomes too painfully obvious. Will it be the banal fascist with the simplistic, easy answers, a leftist with retribution to offer, or a real 'braveheart' who has nothing more to offer than the hardship of freedom?" 

America is not alone in this. The UK is further along the path. We may see the first expression of the future of the West in London than in Washington. Only the future will tell.
"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." Warren Buffett New York Times, November 26, 2006.
"The class warfare is over -- we lost. I want to make that announcement today. Working people lost. The middle class lost." Dennis Kucinich, 18 December 2009
And in the short term there will be quite a bit of jostling at the middle of the ladder, by those who fancy themselves, or their children, suited for the new nobility and so seek to perpetuate the status quo, with a lot of kicking and dog eat dog going on at the lower levels as the ladder shortens, trying to knock the immigrant, the less connected, off into the abyss, to feed the beast.

Out of all of this will come something different, and most likely something unexpected. Its an old story, one that replays over and over. The remedy is sound reason and the Constitution, but these forces have been in retreat for the past ten years at least. Reform and justice have few friends while the looting of a generation is in progress.

"For what we’ve learned in the last few years as one scandal after another spilled onto the front pages is that the bubble economies of the last two decades were not merely monstrous Ponzi schemes that destroyed trillions in wealth while making a small handful of people rich. They were also a profound expression of the fundamentally criminal nature of our political system, in which state power/largess and the private pursuit of (mostly short-term) profit were brilliantly fused in a kind of ongoing theft scheme that sought to instant-cannibalize all the wealth America had stored up during its postwar glory, in the process keeping politicians in office and bankers in beach homes while continually moving the increasingly inevitable disaster to the future.

That is a terrible story and it is also sort of a taboo story, since we don’t really have a system of media now that is willing or even able to digest that dark and complicated truth. Instead, our media — which has always been at best an inadvertent accomplice to these messes — is basically set up to take every revelation about the underlying truth and split it down the middle, feeding half to one side of the political spectrum and one half to the other, where the actual point is then burned up in the useless smoke of a blame game.

The essentially complicit nature of the two ruling political parties was in this way covered up for decades, as the crimes of the Democrats were greedily consumed as entertainment by the Limbaugh crowd while the crimes of the Bushies became hot-selling t-shirts and bumper stickers for the Air America listenership. The abiding mutual hatred the red/blue groups shared consistently prevented any kind of collective realization about the structure of the overall scheme...

Everyone had a hand in the bubble, from the congressmen who killed regulatory initiatives to the regulators who snoozed at the wheel to the GSEs to the Fed to the banks to the ratings agencies to the lenders. I don’t think it’s really controversial to say that, but it does seem like there’s an argument brewing about what that across-the-board complicity means.

My own personal feeling is that our recent bubbles weren’t much different than pyramid scams and lotteries; they’re the handiwork of an essentially regressive and deeply cynical political organization that systematically hoovers up taxes and investment money mainly from middle-class suckers, where it eventually gets eaten in short-term cashouts and mostly blown on sports cars and tropical vacations and eye jobs for the trophy wives of Wall Street executives. Crackonomics: take literally all the spare money from four square city blocks and turn it into one tricked-out Escalade.

For me the basic dynamic of the mortgage bubble is some Ivy League dickwad hawking a billion dollars of securitized subprime mortgages to a pension fund, and then Hobie-sailing off into the sunset with a bonus after they all blow up. Of course my seeing it that way might have a lot to do with my own personal psychological prejudices, and I get that some other person with different hangups might choose to focus on Barney Frank deciding to “roll the dice on home ownership” with the GSEs...

This GSE story is a big one, but if it gets used as a path back to a “The Market Reacted Rationally” version of history, we’re screwed. It has to be looked at as an important part of a diabolical whole, a symbiotic scheme in which the banks and the state were irreversibly intertwined in an enterprise that on both sides was never about market economics, but crime. Because otherwise… the diversionary notion that one side or the other is wholly to blame is part of what makes the whole scam possible..."

Why would you care? Why be concerned about the other? Because when the time comes, there may be no place to hide. Madness makes few rational distinctions between what is and is not worth preserving. Time to listen to the survivors, and not imagine that this time it will be different.
"First they came for the intellectuals, and I did not speak out—because I was not a intellectual;
Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-because i was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a working man;
Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out—because I was not disabled;
Then they came for the gypsies, and I did not speak out—because I was not a gypsy;
Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out—because I was a Protestant;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me —
and there was no one left to speak out for me."