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Sunday, May 03, 2009

So Many Must Sacrifice for So Few

So Many Must Sacrifice for So Few
Image © Austin Cline
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Why is our government continuing its coddling and supporting of bankers, investors, and others who crashed the world economy? Sometimes, it actually seems like Barack Obama's approach towards the banks is the same as his approach towards Republicans: assume that they will negotiate in good faith by seeking reasonable compromises on methods of achieving common goals. Instead, every time the reality is that they have no interest in negotiation of any sort because they reject the goals entirely. Rather than a give-and-take on methods, their approach is to insist that they be given everything they want and screw everyone else.

To cite just one example of the Republicans doing this, there was the "stimulus" bill which the Republicans rejected entirely — instead of trying to compromise on some specific tactics, they wanted to dump the entire philosophy behind the bill in favor of massive tax cuts. It was their position that their electoral losses and shattered economy weren't signs that their traditional tactic of tax cuts might be either mistaken or rejected by the voters.

They wanted everything done their way and, when they didn't get it, refused to play along at all. Had it been possible for this to actually matter, the effect would have been to screw over the vast majority of the American public: let the working and middle classes lose their jobs, lose their homes, and lose whatever confidence they might be able to have for the future. The wealthy, though, would have been able to accumulate an even larger share of the ever-shrinking economy.

To cite a recent example from the financial industry, we have Chrysler going into bankruptcy because hedge funds refused to do what everyone else was doing: accept a lower return on investments so that Chrysler might survive. They want everything and refuse to accept that their investments could possibly have come with a risk of loss, so while everyone else is taking a loss — including workers — the hedge funds have forced Chrysler to go to bankruptcy court where they stand a good chance of getting more than everyone else.

They consider themselves special, with no need to contribute to the collective sacrifices others are making. They insist on "getting theirs," and if this means that others must suffer — like for example a massive loss of jobs due to Chrysler going under completely — that just doesn't matter. As a result, they would be able to also accumulate a larger share of the shrinking economy — an economy that's shrinking in large part because of their decisions.

It's hard to believe that these two groups aren't really one and the same. These are all people who regard themselves as uniquely privileged — not merely lucky, but in fact deserving of all that they have and of course deserving of much, much more. One corollary of this attitude is that those who have lost much and who are struggling must also deserve what has happened to them. During more religious times such circumstances were perceived as signs of God's favor or disfavor; among more secular libertarians today, it's all perceived as signs of hard work, skill, creativity, etc. Whatever happens, happens because it's supposed to — luck, race, gender, etc. play no role whatsoever.

The more privileged a person is, the easier it is for them to focus solely on their own narrow circumstances, taking each event as if it were isolated from everything else in society. They don't have to pay any attention to larger patterns in society or even just in individual institutions. They don't have to think about the ways in which these patterns might make life easier for some and harder for others.

Thus their superior social and political positions are retroactively justified — or just rationalized — by some sort of innate moral, ethical, or psychological superiority. It's little wonder that they feel the need to continue earning large amounts of money despite their failures. Their earlier success at earning lots of money may have been the basis for concluding their own innate superiority, but this latter belief has become an independent principle which is now used to justify why they should continue getting lots of money regardless of performance. Failure is certainly not used to conclude that they are inferior in the same ways they concluded everyone else was.

So once again, why is the Obama administration coddling the delusions of these people by rewarding their failures? Perhaps because so many people in the administration have long been part of this deluded banking and corporate culture. The entire Washington, D.C. scene has become insular and incestuous, disconnected from the life of people elsewhere in the nation. People move between lobbying firms, banks, investment firms, corporate boards, and "elected" office like they are simply moving from one corner office to another, all in the same company but just changing job title.

How much has changed, really?


  1. So once again, why is the Obama administration coddling the delusions of these people by rewarding their failures?You just answered your own question, of course (as you probably know): They are the "owners." Or, if they do not actually hold the titles to all property, they--the banksters, er al--intimately serve the interests of the owners (having developed a taste for shit, they expertly tongue-lave the prostates of their bosses).

    The "owners" don't 'fail.' Everything is arranged so that they can never be blamed for anything. I mean, you can blame 'em, and throw rhetorical brickbats, and rail at the wind, but the pure, unavoidable facts of the case are that the "owners" are the only ones who matter, the government serves them, and the rest of us are as expendable as a dropped cookie on the floor...

  2. There's also this latent assumption that money distributed by the federal government doesn't really belong to anyone. It's a resource to be exploited like gold in a hillside and every organization that can contrive a way to get at it will do so.

  3. I think there is also an assumption that if really important people like bankster execs "fail" something really bad will happen. It is the natural order of things for 6 million people to lose their jobs or millions of people to lose their houses.

  4. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Okay, so, aside from saying “Obama is as bad as Bush,” what, precisely, would Austin Cline do?

  5. It's easy to make a case that agressively going after whatever gimmes and loopholes (independent of the spirit or intent of the policy) is moral. I think that there is a moral belief that exploitation of these "opportunities" will more rapidly lead to a libertarian universe of real freedom, as these systems are forced to fail under their own weight.

  6. Cline, I challenge you to show me anywhere in The Holy Bible where Jesus said anything about helping the little guy! Of course, this is an empty rhetorical challenge on my part, because I know you're a damned-by-God atheist, so what do YOU know about The Bible?

    Those of us who are rich, or at least hope to be, know it's a central part of our Faith that God bestows fortune on the worthy. Likewise, He withholds fortune from the unworthy and punishes the wicked. It might not be obvious why this happens, because sometimes the rich guys seem to be right bastards, and the people who get cancer or live in shacks don't seem to deserve that.

    But God must have His reasons. He HAS to! Because if God didn't reward/punish, then that would mean there is not an Invisible Hand up there in the Sky, stroking some and smashing others. It would mean that things happen by random chance, not under the guidance of an Omnipotent, All-Seeing Wise Guy with a White Beard. It would mean that 2,000 years of pious faith -- even longer if you count those wily Jews -- were a bunch of foolishness! What a crazy thing that would be. So of course it must be incorrect.

    Nope, Cline, the principle that the greed are blessed by God is central to religion. It would mean that basically every faith is based on ideas that are ludicrous. You'll have plenty of time to ponder that when you are swimming in a lake of fire being poked with pitchforks by red imps with little horns on their head, for all of eternity. However long that is.

  7. Anonymous11:08 PM

    First of all, letting these companies fail would have prevented any of these problems. Government intervention, with Obama mediating some "deal," not only goes against what our structure of law determines to be the proper course of action (bankruptcy), it creates problems such as these. Now the government is put in the situation of choosing the "winner" and the "loser". And, not surprisingly, Obama has chosen an unpopular group (investors) to demonize from his bully pulpit since he's not been able to dictate who the "winner" will be.

    Aside from the obvious statism here, this is demagougery 101. This is what these people do, and Obama does it well. Now people really believe that it is because of some "greedy hedgefund" that Chrysler is in bankruptcy. It couldn't possibly be because the company failed. It couldn't possibly be that the company would have been in bankruptcy had the government (Bush at the time) not bailed them out. No.

    Obama, after continuing to prop them up, is able to once again draw upon the populist anger in the country by demonizing "big business".

    Why would the hedgefund accept what the President wants to dictate to them when they're protected by bankruptcy law? They were under the assumption that their contract was valid when they invested. Should a President be able to undermine that? Regardless of what supposed support Obama grants to the concept of the "rule of law" since Souter declared his retirement, this entire orchestration has undermined the very concept itself.

    However we shouldn't be surprized at what Obama has done here. This is just a display of his "community organizer" skills. Manipulating people's anger to further his agenda. What can I say though, he is cunning.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.