Friday, October 7, 2011

Too Big to Fail


Once, not too long ago, it was widely held that capitalism was a game of winners and losers. The players would proceed on the basis that the market would either respond favorably or unfavorably to their respective offerings. The game was only viable if the possibility of great reward was accompanied by great risk. After all, what incentive is there to play any game if one does not, at the very least, pay lip service to honest competition? So here we are circa 2009-2011 and the jig is up. The game is rigged. The Wall Street paper traders, who incidentally create nothing, can and do reap the rewards of speculation but perversely can also rely on tax payer hand outs to resurrect their failed business ventures under the hateful rubric ‘too big to fail.’ Historians and scholars have for years struggled to find the right translation for Voltaire’s infamous phrase ‘ecrasez l’infame.” One widely agreed upon construction is ‘crush the hateful thing.’ Could Voltaire have meant and felt exactly the same thing about the indefensible ancien regime as we today feel about the monstrous entitlement that belies ‘too big to fail’? Crush the hateful thing.

So. We’ve all heard the hated phrase. Like an insufferable smug uncle they (you know who they are) pat you on the back and say ‘sometimes ya gotta take one for the team son.’ Naturally the plutocrats and their creatures amongst the cognoscenti media sell this tough love in the language of unassailable technocrat authority – you can hear the sonorous lecturing tone dripping with condescension (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Warren Buffet anyone?) for the great unwashed middle classes who have the chutzpah to argue from the evidence of their senses (to say nothing of common sense) and the quaint audacity of Aristotelian logic. The law of the excluded middle says A) the lot of the middle class is improving, B) the lot of the middle class is worsening. It cannot be both A and B. In exhibit A we have stagnant wages, spiraling living costs, rampant joblessness, decaying infrastructure, failing schools, criminalization of dissent, signs of rapid acceleration towards a police state and wholesale demographic replacement via unchecked third world immigration. Clearly, in spite of all this however, it must be B.

No, our new plutocrat overlords on Wall Street and in Washington are here to set the record straight; while risk and reward , success or failure (bankruptcy) maybe part of small capitalism, who cares if Vinny’s Pizzeria, or Rob’s Hardware and Supply thrives or dies, really, but woe betide America if the sumptuous life styles of the great paper traders and high wizards of arcane finance should ever diminish, for so vital are the services of these celestial personages that ruin for them must, perforce, mean the collapse of  our economy, civil society and possibly even Western Civilization itself. Too big to fail. Verily, they are Capitalists and they are to ordinary men as man is to the ape. Yessir, be glad you worked all that overtime at the autobody shop, Joe, because while all your sacrifice and drudgery almost certainly will not buy your children a brighter future the sweat of your brow means a few more years of Bearnaise sauce and Chateau Lafite for your infinitely more refined( and nicely manicured) betters in the Hamptons. Be proud of your toil, for as the yoked oxen stoically plow the hard ground so should your unsung servitude be your badge of pride. The great paper traders can hang on to their Swiss chalets a little longer and their lovely pleasure craft are a few more years postponed from being commandeered by the PRC as fishing junks for the glory of the proletariat.

(Ladies and gentlemen it is with the gravest trepidation and existential dread that I inform you of breaking news that the Euro is in peril. Something about the insolvency of Greece spreading like an unspeakable contagion across the Continent, threatening to bring down the very European Union itself! Horror of horrors, sic gloria et transit mundi. Obviously the situation cries out for a bailout which only the prosperous North can deliver. Apparently however the self righteous heartlessness of the Teutonic peoples in their cold and misty hinterland has reared its ugly head for they do not want to help their Mediterranean brothers. These mean spirited Goths talk of a strong work ethic and spending within one’s means and all this self reliance stuff. Where is their humanity I ask? The Greek model was a noble one: shorter weeks, perpetual job security and a lavish welfare state, and yes its true that it was fiscally unsustainable but the intentions were good and that’s the important thing. We would do well to be mindful of the wise teachings of Professor Jeffries who tirelessly cried out against the perpetual victimization of Sun People by the callous predatory Ice People.)

To wit, in America we have socialism for the rich, underwritten by the waning middle class, in Europe we have socialism for the profligate Mediterranean South, paid for by Northern Europeans who mostly get up before 10 in the morning. Do we begin to see a trend?

The author proposes the following allegory for illustration. At some point in the history of conservation the relevant authorities realized that in attempting total suppression of natural forest fires they had in fact created the perfect conditions for truly cataclysmic conflagrations, fires that could utterly destroy a forest. This is because natural fires cleanse forests from accumulating detritus and decay and allow for the possibility of new growth. Instead the massive accumulation of decaying biomass provided the necessary fuel for unstoppable raging firestorms. So in attempting to protect the ecosystem from the occasional natural calamity (fire) their do-gooding, in fact, destroyed it. Nature is cruel and callous but can little compare with the folly of deliberate ‘improvers.’

If half of the American dream is that the ambition of a hot dog vendor can lead him to rule over a mighty business empire the other half demands that the hubris of a CEO can bring him down to selling hot dogs.

Unhappy about all of this? Deal with it. Be happy because the Nanny State will give you the table scraps and leftovers …to quote from the peerless insight of Jello BiAfra: “Do not attempt to think or depression may occur…at last, everything is done for you.” George Orwell famously said that his nightmare vision of the future was of a jack boot kicking a face over and over and over again, ad infinitum. Well this author’s present nightmare is of the middle class taking it in the shorts over and over and over and over…

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