Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him?

Thomas Friedman  writes today about a $285 million dollar fine against Citibank for fraudulent derivative trading.  Like Goldman Sachs, Citi put together a billion dollar package of toxic mortgage-backed securities and collateral debt obligations, half of which were specifically chosen as likely to fail.  They sold this dreck to others while at the same time they shorted their own product so as to make money as its value collapsed.  They were being soooooo smart.  They made money off of fools dumb enough to trust them, and they made money off of the toxic assets that they were dumping as their value disappeared.  

I certainly don't care how wealthy anyone becomes in America.  What I very much care about, however, is when people become wealthy as a result of damaging others.  The financial industry management became wealthy beyond imagination at the expense of their clients, and at the expense of all of us who are now living in a world of near Depression created by their recklessness and avaricious greed.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are fairly incoherent and populated in part by fringe elements that are pretty ridiculous.  But the object of their anger is legitimate.  Arguments by the ruling financial oligarchy that increasing taxes on them won't solve the country's terrible debt problems is true, but not particularly meaningful.  Pretty much everyone knows that a terrible injustice has been done to the middle class of America and the world.  The lack of graciousness and remorse by the perpetrators of that injustice is very grating to many.   A couple of centuries ago the French turned to guillotines as their expression of anger towards their ruling aristocracy.  America won't go to that extreme, I am sure, but I think we need to see a government that can bring some justice and closure to this very dark chapter of history. 

I have long been quite conservative in financial matters, believing that the free market was the goose that laid the golden egg of prosperity and created the middle class in America and the developed world.  That belief has had to be re-evaluated after 9/15/2008 when Lehman went bankrupt and the financial industry's rape of its customers and extraction of billions from the middle classes for its own private fortunes became exposed.

Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him?  The Bull Moose was the trust buster.  We need a similar force to break up the too-big-to-fail financial institutions.  I think Bush and Obama were right to rescue the financial industry, but it is angering to me that they didn't break them up and strip them of their enormous, policy controlling powers while they rescued them.  On a human level I want to see scores of greed-bags put in jail.  But much more important to me is to see the size and power of the financial industry reduced to their proper size and function.  The financial industry is supposed to be a support for business and industry, not an end unto itself.  I want to see future MIT engineer and science graduates go on to become engineers and scientists, not continue to go to Wall Street to play the game of creating massive wealth for themselves at the expense of others too stupid to see how they are being raped by them.

I am still a firm believer in free markets, but the financial markets are no longer free.  They have been taken over by a criminal element who have so much influence over our government that even their criminal activity is legally sanctioned.  

It is time for the new generation of youth, which I believe to be similar in nature to the Greatest Generation of the '30s and '40s, to rise up and clean up the mess they have been given.  It is in them that our hopes for the future lie.  If all they want to do is follow in the footsteps of the gen-xers who put making money above all else, then the future of America is not a happy one.  But, if they can take their enormous talents and cooperative, collaborative instincts and turn them into real creativity and real wealth creation, as did their similar Greatest Generation cohort, America will be reborn once again and rise from the ashes and soar as the Phoenix.