Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time for a new vision

I saw the Oscar winning documentary film “Inside Job” Sunday night.  It was a good summary of the financial crisis of 2008, which we are still living with. 

It showed rather dramatically what I have been reading about pretty intensely for the last couple of years or so – greed, lack of character, deceit, incompetence, all leading to disaster for the financial system, leading to a disaster for the economy, leading to a disaster for workers in America and around the world, but leading to bigger bonuses for the financial sector who caused it all.  Pretty disgusting.  And no significant changes in the financial industry.  So, it is set up to happen all over again.

I don’t care how much the super rich make or have.  I just want to create my own prosperous life, and I am against being jealous and envious of the super rich because I think those feelings are toxic and counterproductive to me. 

But I do care if the super rich have created a system where they are essentially stealing vast sums of money from the middle and lower classes so they can compete with each other for more and more elaborate trophies of wealth to feed their bottomless hungers.  And, although the middle classes were caught up in their own greed and foolishness, they were dealing with a financial industry that used the smartest guys in the country to entice the least sophisticated buyers to buy the most toxic financial investments ever invented. 

In the past, I didn’t give any credence to the class warfare rants of the radical left wing.  The “robber barons” of the late nineteenth century amassed huge fortunes and many were pretty odious in many ways, but they created industries and jobs and a system where people were able to create their own livings.  So, I thought that they provided a service, one that lifted the standard of living of the nation and was a benefit to the country.  And I was not bothered by their wealth at all.

But these robber barons of the financial industry of today have done just the opposite.  They have created nothing.  And they have lowered the standard of living of the country. 

I had thought that the financial industry provided funds for industry to grow, and for people to buy houses, and for America to prosper.  But, when peeling back the cover of what the financial industry was actually doing, one sees that they were making vast fortunes off of derivatives, which were nothing more than zero sum games for the super wealthy to place bets in a super sophisticated casino, and which did nothing to create jobs or grow the economy or benefit America.  The main ingredient of their casino was sub-prime mortgages, and their lust for these low quality loans was insatiable, so that over time the loans became more and more risky and toxic.  But as long as the music was playing they made billions of dollars in bonuses, and they drove the economy off the cliff. 

In the end, the bubble burst on the sub-prime mortgages, the mortgage backed securities and their derivatives became worthless, and the economy stopped working altogether.  It was only by the government rescuing the economy with even more money from the middle classes – i.e. tax dollars - that the economy was saved and people were able to continue to put food on their tables. 

But the financial super-rich did not go to jail, nor lose many of their jobs, nor stop getting their billions in bonuses.  The game goes on, and the smartest guys in the country are finding new ways to suck more billions out of the country and into their Picassos and yachts and hookers.

Both political parties are at the heart of the problem.  Reagan started it with a belief in an unregulated free market which he sold to the American people and the world.  Clinton followed with his agreement on the basic idea and assisted in further deregulations and market stimulations.  Bush was a true believer who went all in on the unregulated free market idea and ran us all off the cliff.  Obama had a chance to bust the oligarchic financial rulers but put it off while he pursued his dream of health reform, and by the time he got around to financial reform the oligarchy had reasserted its powers and nothing meaningful has been done.

These are my thoughts on this arena so far.  They are a work in process.  More to come, I am sure. 

But for now, I think it is up to each of us to look to live our own lives more prudently, less greedily, less materialistically, more spiritually.  In a country of prudent, temperate, responsible citizens, the zeitgeist wouldn’t allow such reckless, abusive behavior in the people trusted with our financial system.

The country, and the world, needs a new voice on these matters.  Reagan’s voice answered the toxic voice of Marx.  Then Reagan’s philosophy became toxic itself.  A new voice is needed that allows both the innovation and opportunity and creativity of the Reagan philosophy, and allows the caring and community and compassion of the Marx philosophy, and transcends each with a new view of material and spiritual prosperity.

I think it has something to do with empowerment.  It starts with the self empowerment of individual achievement and prosperity and perhaps goes on to having something to do with the empowering of others, creating systems where others can become empowered, free, expressed, individuated, autonomous, and cooperative.  It somehow includes and transcends both socialism and capitalism.  It both empowers the individual and fosters cooperation.  It is the dream of each and both the right and the left, and is a synergy of both energies, thus becoming greater than either.  I wish I had a better idea of what that new dream, that new vision, that new voice can be. 

All I know for now is that the financial industry took the beauty of capitalism, of free market economies, and gamed it and turned it into a toxic poison that is hurting America. 

It is time for a new vision.