Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Things Fall Apart

I'm always skeptical when someone describes a news story, photograph, etc. as having broader significance or as "representative of an era." The same goes for those "the money we're spending on x would pay for y-number of roads, bridges, or schools" arguments. But while we pour trillions into an overseas occupation, something about this story hit a nerve:

Keep the image in your mind of that woman dying on the floor. Now fast-forward to the 3:35 mark of this clip:

Do you agree with Greenspan or with Sanders?

At various times during the past few hundred years, usually after profound institutional failure, the "save capitalism from itself" movement has been popular. It's obviously a factor in the current electoral cycle (see these photos, particularly the fifth one down). The real question is what form this will take after November, and how far it will go.


Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

Dasm!! That second clip was from when Bernie Sanders was still in the House. I wonder how Greenspan liked getting his ass handed to him by an admitted socialist.

7/08/2008 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarnsar said...

Bernie Sanders both rocks and rolls in this clip! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Greenspan's answer was perfectly irrelevant. Bernie could have said, "My toilet is overflowing!" and Greenspan would have answered, "Our fire department response time is at an all time low!". And still he tipped his hand when he said that monetary policy is geared towards encouraging capital investment. The phrase "encouraging capital investment" is another way of saying "give rich people and corporations more money".

On a side note, I have realized recently that there is an interesting contradiction at the heart of capitalism. Capitalism is all about incentives, right? One is incentivized to work, or to invest, or to invent, by the possibility of making money. Now, we know that the "free market" (I put it in scare quotes because it does not, in fact, exist) works best when there is robust competition, ease of entry, and an informed consumer. At least, that's what I was told in Econ class in college. But today, a company is incentivized to crush their competition, prevent others from entering the market, and to tell consumers whatever it takes to get them to buy. Yeah, they could make a better product, but that is too much work and expense. So the players is the game are incentivized to take actions that cause the system to break down; sounds real sustainable.

This is the state of American Capitalism. The saying goes that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. But in Greenspan's America, if you build a better mousetrap, the guy with the established mouse trap business will make sure that your product never makes it to market. That's what happens when you base your economy and society on one of the seven deadly sins (and I'm not even Christian!).

Capitalism needs to be saved from itself. But you can't save something that doesn't want to be saved.

7/08/2008 12:41 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Well, the people making all the money don't want to be "saved," but they're not the only people involved in "American Capitalism." And, of course, capitalism has never been without government protection and/or regulation.

That said, I'm not terribly optimistic that we're entering into a reform era. Maybe we are, but . . . we have the two parties driven largely by narrowly defined corporate interests, and a media that takes the Greenspan line in virtually all of its reporting --stories about the need to allow more immigration because some employers can't find people willing to do jobs (with no mention of a simple solution: offer higher wages); stories that frame an increase in wages as a worrisome "problem"; stories that parrot the propagandistic phrase "free trade" without even entertaining the notion that there's nothing "free" about trade agreements that use copyright and other protectionist measures to funnel wealth upward and do away with decent jobs for the rest of us; and so on. Not to mention a citizenry with very little interest in citizenship. It will take a great crisis to get things moving.

On the bright(?) side, we may get our great crisis very soon . . .

7/08/2008 1:10 PM  
Blogger Miss Bliss said...

Is it just me or does it seem like we, human beings that is, can't seem to grasp the concept that true functionality resides in the middle ground? We must have some of everything and this true in our economic policies as it is in all of our policies. We need the freedom for expansion and growth but we need regulation to keep human nature from running amok and taking us all down as a result of plain old fashioned greed. Humans do not seem to be spiritually evolved enough yet to regularly sacrifice a bit of their individual benefit for the good of the long term health and well being of the overall society. So the overall society must take some responsibility for imposing some requirements...but not to the crushing detriment of the individual. Middle ground, where everybody gets some and everybody loses some.

7/08/2008 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary, you are right about the "citizenry with very little interest in citizenship", I'm afraid.


7/08/2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't help it; both the videos and the comments here are tears-flowing-down-cheeks hilarious.

Sanders laments the outflow of mfg jobs when it's his style of regulation that makes producing things in America too expensive. I guess he thinks that if Widget manufacturers in Vermont would have to make them cost 20X what Chinese widgets cost, domestic manufacturing is still worth mandating.

People act as though rules promulgated from coercive bureaucracies (government, for the confused) are free of charge. What IDIOTS!

Save capitalism from itself? We need rules to reign in too much freedom in business?

My god, people are stupid!

It is as though men come in two flavors, one is business-man who is self-interested and can't be trusted to "do the right thing," and Government-man [Sound the Trumpets!] who is wise, self-sacrificing, and needed to regulate the activities of Business-man (else civilization come to an end).

Today in America we circle the drain because of the Siamese-twin relationship of government and corporations nurtured especially in the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex (MICC). The Kabuki Theater on C-Span obfuscates all...because the reality is that no activity in America is free of regulatory "guidance" (when a toilet's per-flush water use is subject to a statutory limit, you know there's no sh*t that remains to puke some legislation upon!).

So if you want to talk about how the Fed is ruining the country, or it's the corporation, or the knaves who work in Mordor-on-the-Potomac, or whatever, trace it all back.

The foundation is a belief in the efficacy of force to make a better world, as embodied by the man with a gun who works for the government. The guy in the suit passes the rules (in Congress, or in a regulatory agency, or in the litigation history of any statute) and the guy with the badge and the gun comes to make you do (or not do) whatever it is they dictated (even if the directives are mutually contradictory).

It's idiotic. Force produces results 180 degrees opposite of its stated aims.

Get over your love affair with force, or suffer what happens when you get what you asked for.

7/08/2008 6:39 PM  
Anonymous b-psycho said...

According to the textbooks, Bernie -- as an admitted socialist -- is supposed to be completely wrong regardless. Instead, Bernie is 50/50 & Greenspan is 100% wrong. This says a lot more about our economy than many would care to admit.

The issue is not Yes to Regulation vs No to Regulation. That never happens in the real world. Instead, the question should be of who the regulation in place is intended to help. Greenspan's remarks in that clip answer that question, and as far as Bernie agrees that such an arrangement sucks that means he "gets" it. While philosophically I'd reject the entire premise the modern US government continues to operate by, pragmatically speaking it's more important to stop digging the hole now than to bicker about what to do with the shovels once we get out.

7/08/2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Who's complaining? That this woman could lay dying on a hospital floor for over an hour while the staff on duty reported her as 'active and going to the bathroom' through numerous visual checks to the contrary is proof that Grover Norquist's vision of government has finally been realized. Worse, this event is a small microcosm of the suffering and neglect endured after Hurricane Katrina. Imagine this scene playing a thousand times over while George Bush and John McCain played guitar and cut birthday cake on a carrier deck in San Diego.

If you voted for it, learn to like it. Otherwise, let's call it what it is: the moral bankruptcy of America.

Happy 4th of July.

7/08/2008 10:38 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

What else could possibly happen when a nation of 300 million people get to vote for two candidates to give power over their lives to. Ours is the stupidest institution on the face of the planet. How could 300 million people ever possibly know enough to pick one person out of this bunch to govern them? It is all backwards people. If you have to believe in this government nonsense (which I don't...but for the sake of argument) it would only make sense that you would give most of your tax dollars and interest to your local government. A considerably smaller part to your state government...and the federal government just a tiny portion with the president being almost nothing but a figure head. The idea that these people are going to serve your interests is beyond laughable. If your leader doesn't have to fear you spitting in their face they aren't going to do anything but steal from you. Not only do they not have to fear such things from you...you would be arrested or shot and killed if you tried it. You serve them people. They don't serve you. They are your masters. They just like to keep the grumbling down with all this democracy nonsense. The collapse of the English, French, Soviets, etc. had to happen. When a small group of people consolidate power over a large number of people, eventually the people resist. It is only a matter of time before we collapse. I look forward to it.

7/09/2008 2:48 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarnsar said...


"Well, the people making all the money don't want to be "saved," but they're not the only people involved in "American Capitalism."

But they are the ones that matter when it comes to saving capitalism. They are the drivers. They are the ones running it into the ground to boost their quarterly profits. So, no, they do not want to be saved. But Capitalism cannot be saved without their (or their replacements') cooperation. That's why I said that Capitalism does not want to be saved.

Anonymous at 6:39:

You state, "Sanders laments the outflow of mfg jobs when it's his style of regulation that makes producing things in America too expensive. I guess he thinks that if Widget manufacturers in Vermont would have to make them cost 20X what Chinese widgets cost, domestic manufacturing is still worth mandating."

Sanders' style of regulation has to do with things like workers' rights and environmental regulations. Why do you think the Chinese can make everything so cheaply? They pay their workers shit, make them work long hours and in dangerous conditions. They have lax or non-existent environmental regulations. It's the same with Southeast Asia and Mexico, and wherever else we get our cheap crap from.

But then we hear the "free market" mantra, "But it's cheaper! You can't expect business to pay more when they could pay less"! Well cheaper isn't always better, okay? I understand that the corporate beast only understands profit. But the rest of society has, or should have, other concerns as well. I pay more to shop at Whole Foods because I believe the food is better for me. By "free market" ideology I should be spending half as much by eating as much artificial processed crap as I can get my hands on, because it's cheaper. Our kids and pets are being poisoned by inferior products because all we care about is a low cost. Besides, whether you realize it or not, we all benefit when workers have rights and the environment is protected, both directly and indirectly.

"Today in America we circle the drain because of the Siamese-twin relationship of government and corporations nurtured especially in the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex (MICC)."

Yes, this is a big part of it. But why has this relationship between the military, Congress and industry arisen? Congress gets its bribes, er, campaign contributions. The military gets its toys. And industry gets sweet contracts and reductions in regulation. This cozy relationship enables big business to literally dictate the terms to the government. You know that Halliburton has literally blackmailed the US government into paying billions in over-charges, right? Too much regulation must be the problem...

As to your point about the reliance on the use of force, you are absolutely spot on.

7/09/2008 11:38 AM  
Anonymous mary said...

kilfarnsar, if you'd read far enough you'd have seen that I basically agree with you. (Not that anyone has to read through all my blather if they don't want to!) I just didn't buy the narrow definition of "captilalism" -- we're all part of it, like it or not.

As for the ranters in the comments, I'm impressed by your energy level. But you're not very convincing, alas -- too much certainty is a bad thing.

7/09/2008 1:43 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Why is pointing out what is in front of one's nose ranting? The decline of empires in recent history is fairly straight forward. Why did the Soviet Union collapse? How come they seem to be turning things around now? You just don't chose to see. Arther Silber said it better than I can. He is a better writer than me so nobody would call him a ranter. LOL.


Over the last century, these dynamics have become the foundation of every aspect of American society and culture. The entanglements of the public and private sectors have grown increasingly byzantine and almost impossible to decipher much of the time, but the major theme is unaltered. Let's keep the primary lesson simple: The most wealthy and powerful private interests align with government -- and this partnership between the most powerful private interests and the state gets what it wants. You -- the "ordinary" citizen -- are of no importance whatsoever in these calculations, except insofar as your labor, and occasionally your life, are required so that the ruling elites are assured of getting what they want. You -- your life, your work, your family, your friendships, your happiness -- are entirely dispensable.

Try to understand this. This intricate and ornate series of interrelationships between and among various private and public powers has grown and metastasized over more than one hundred years. It will not be dislodged overnight. It will not be altered except by a deliberate and painful process of de-linking, which would require several decades at the very least. But history tells us that, once a corporatist system has reached an advanced stage such as that which now prevails in the United States, it will only be changed by a major disruption and, more probably, by a series of disruptions: financial weakening and possibly collapse, and/or a major war or series of wars, and/or natural catastrophe, and/or...

7/10/2008 12:54 AM  
Anonymous e. nonee moose said...

If you haven't read Max Barry's book "Jennifer Government" then now would be a good time to do so. Paints a very realistic picture of what the Libertarian "paradise" of the future might look like.

7/10/2008 1:28 PM  
Anonymous kilfarnsar said...

Sorry Mary, didn't mean to jump down your throat. I get a little riled up sometimes.

Thanks for the link Goldhorder. That blog seems interesting.

See, that's why I love this blog. Not only is the content often interesting and enlightening, but the commenters are too. Thanks CR!

7/10/2008 3:51 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Moose...Libertarian government? Are you joking? I can't even buy a showerhead that works in this country. Everything is regulated! Everything! I can't build a carport...I can't drill a well...I can't raise a cow...I can't raise chickens...I can't do anything without approval from the government. Nothing. We are soooo far removed from anything resembling freedom its not even funny. Whatever.

7/14/2008 2:24 AM  
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