Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greed is god

By Carl

This week seems to be my week to explore humanity and the emotional states underlying our current national crises of the economy and the political atmosphere.

So let's take this from a different perspective and try to tie them together.

Fortuitously, I was reading an article in National Geographic magazine about the
burgeoning oil sand industry in Canada.

Lest you think that natural resource exploitation and the ravaging of native lands only happens in tropical climes, you need to read that article. However, it's
this quote that caught my eye and got me thinking:

"It's my belief that when government attempts to manipulate the free market, bad things happen," Premier Stelmach told a gathering of oil industry executives that year. "The free-market system will solve this."

But the free market does not consider the effects of the mines on the river or the forest, or on the people who live there, unless it is forced to. Nor, left to itself, will it consider the effects of the oil sands on climate. Jim Boucher has collaborated with the oil sands industry in order to build a new economy for his people, to replace the one they lost, to provide a new future for kids who no longer hunt ptarmigan in the moonlight. But he is aware of the trade-offs. "It's a struggle to balance the needs of today and tomorrow when you look at the environment we're going to live in," he says. In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job. 

Today v. tomorrow. The now v. the then. Hmmmm... sounds familiar...

And this is the struggle that President Obama as well as every other world leader faces today, the juggling of the efficiencies of the free market against the need to protect the environment and the people, to state the general case.

There are no simple answers to be had here, as much as the conservatives would like you to believe. They want you to believe that because in an environment (pun intended) that is bereft of ideas, we cling to the past, to ideas that work sometimes if at all. The simple answer is to let the market sort it out.

I've said before that the power of the market, the real strength of it, is to weed out weakness, to promote a sort of economic evolution.

When it works well, it's extremely good at this. I don't think the market has worked well since the Reagan administration, and I'm not completely sure why.

Certainly, with Reagan, we saw the fledgling crony capitalist markets. The amount of money suddenly available in the junk bond market, the extraction of mythical valuations of "goodwill" and the raping of pension plans for the cash they contained, all combined to create barriers to entry in industries as diverse as banking and retail.

If you're wondering why Wal-Mart is ubiquitous, but you can't find an Alexander's or a Gimbel's (sorry, I'm Noo Yawk oriented), this is why: they were swept up in junk bond mania.

At first, this was an efficiency exercise. Truly there were companies that were wasting resources, paying, you know, salaries and pensions, among other things. The wave of mergers and acquisitions probably, at first, cut a lot of fat out of the marketplace, setting the stage for the enormous growth of the 1990s.

However, all good things become bad in due time, and the wolves howling at the door stopped wanting just fat and wanted the real meat.

The market, rather than be efficient, became cannibalistic.

We've seen this time and time again in America: they call it a "bubble" but in truth, it's the self-feeding cycle of cannibalism, developed through what Greenspan called "irrational exuberance".

Another Reagan-era monstrosity is the flow of corporate money into politics. A nonsensical and absurd ruling (1978 Boston v Bellotti) by the SCOTUS allowed that corporations, which are basically money magnets, have the same free speech rights as persons, and so should be allowed to contribute to politicians and to have a say in the running of the country.

All that money that had been paid out in dividends and re-invested in making the company more efficient and more responsive to their customers now became a cudgel to force legislators to bend the rules of commerce in their favor.

And now we have what we have: a Congress beholden to special interest groups, because the rewards of all that contributed money is more money to spend on advertising, which means the price of campaigning skyrockets, which means the only way a person can afford to run (even Obama) is to suckle at the teat of corporate America.

The Chinese have a saying: all feasts must have an end.

As well, governmental regulation has its good points, and its absurdities. Too much regulation can stifle creativity. Too little regulation, and you get salmonella in your peanut butter. The tendency in this swing of the pendulum is to enforce "just right sized" rules, but eventually, there will be too many and they will be too burdensome.

So which becomes the bigger burden? Too much regulation or too much money floating around?

Neither. Both. And there's the problem.

We'll continue this whipsaw back and forth until someone has the gumption to stand up and say "enough". No more corporate political contributions, get that stupid decision overturned and finally work for the people, the individuals, and not the aggolmerations of capital and political power that have worked to effectively disenfranchise the entire nation.

This is not a Republican issue (altho it tends to affect Republican administrations more than Democratic) or a Democratic issue, but a national issue.

Greed is god in this country, and it's time to tear down the idols and expose the feets of clay.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home