Saturday, November 15, 2008

The economic crisis keeps gathering steam.

As I have said many times before, I have no training, or even understanding past the basics, of our economic system. But I do read a number of people who do. Paul Krugman of the NY Times just won a Nobel Prize for his work in economics, and he continues to be very concerned that the governments of the world are not adequately addressing this now global crisis. If he is worried, then I am worried.

The United States tried to do something several weeks ago with the $700 billion bailout package that was rushed through Congress. Oh, you certainly can’t fault anyone for not being enthusiastic enough in the response. There were a few words of caution put forward by politicians of both sides concerning this bailout package. Why this particular amount of money? Who was it to go to? What was the money to be used for, exactly? What kind of oversight was going to be provided? But the predictions were so dire that politicians gulped several times, crossed their fingers that they were doing the right thing, and pulled the trigger. The consequences of this action, both the good and the bad, are yet to be determined. All that seems apparent is that, even though $700 billion is a very large amount of money, it isn't going to be nearly enough.

What bothers me about this is not the fact that the government of the United States is rather embracing socialism, without ever saying so. Our society is based on many of institutions of this country, and it appeared to me that several of them were about to get their legs kicked out from under them by the fact that credit was drying up, quickly, on a global basis. Credit, whether we like it or not, is the grease that makes our economy grow. (It’s not really a coincidence that George Bush asked everyone to “go shopping” in response to the events of 9/11 and our subsequent invasion of Iraq.) No, I believe that we needed to do something. And something we did.

What is really under my skin is the continuing reports about how many people out there seem to think that this sudden influx of money, lots of money, is somehow a declaration of an open season for “getting as much as you can”, whether you deserve it or not. Reports of AIG executives having “retreats” at very posh vacation spots keep trickling out. Maybe, just maybe, one of these might be expected out of fat cats who think that “avarice” is synonymous with “good business practices”. But after they got toasted in front of a Congressional hearing, you would have thought that would have been an example to both AIG and the rest of the industry. No, reports, including those about more AIG executive outings, continue to leak out. The bailout money is reportedly being used by corporations to give their executives large bonuses, to pay stockholder dividends and, amazingly enough, to finance the purchase of other companies.

These people are the ones that really upset me. These are the people who are running our economy, and they are treating it like their private playground. They see no larger purpose in anything they do other than to continue to enrich themselves. Even being caught and castigated in public, by Congress, doesn’t really reach their stunted psyche. They have no understanding, no concept, that this is not about them. They fully believe that it is their right to grab as much as possible for their own. I actually think that they do no understand why anyone might be upset with this behavior, that’s how far gone they are.

In my mind, these are the monsters in our society. These are the villains. It isn’t the people who would like to marry other people of the same sex. It’s these assholes in charge of the corporations of America. Oh, yes. They do provide the cogs that run our economy and have given us our high standard of life here. But I believe that the “industrial magnates”, to use a term from the Gilded Age, only see this as a side benefit. Their main purpose is to continue to enrich themselves. We may not have the same high-profile robber-barons of that era, such as J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. But we certainly have the same mindset prevalent in leaders of today’s industry. Their mantra seems to be, “Get as much as you can, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.”

I really don’t know how some people live with themselves.

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