Saturday, December 20, 2008

Economic Woes

Lately, there seem to be some conservative talking points coming out about the economy. The gist of it is, yes, the economy is bad, but it is not the Great Depression, and we must resist the urge to throw laissez-faire "Free Market Capitalism" out the window.

One thing that I will agree with is that the constant 24/7 news coverage might make things seem a little bit worse than they actually might be - not much, but just a little.

For instance, when they write about unemployment, they always say that it "surged". When they talk about stocks, they always say they "plunged". When they talk about certain companies, they always say they are "doomed".

What I cannot agree with is the notion that what happened at Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Freddie and Fannie, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide, was in any way, shape or form sound laissez-faire "free market capitalism".

I cannot agree that the poor management of the big three, spanning multiple years, not just starting with this "crisis" is sound laissez-faire "free market capitalism".

If that were the case, the "big three" and these other lumbering giants on Wall Street would be allowed to fail. I'm not an Economist, or a financial expert, but, isn't that "the rule" of laissez-faire "free market capitalism"? If you are not a survivor, you are weak and should be put out of business to make way for stronger, sounder companies?

Of course, that is not going to happen, and that is probably a good thing. I'm not entirely convinced however that giving the auto makers (or the Wall Street firms for that matter) big piles of cash will make a difference.

How are they going to do it differently from how they've done it in the past? What lessons, if any, have they learned to insure that it doesn't happen again?

And let's not forget the stunningly mediocre performance of the government regulatory agencies that were supposed to protect us from these kinds of things. Like it or not, we need regulation. If you don't have it adequately, you're going to get what you've gotten.

The Founding Fathers knew this with regard to political power. They knew you always needed CHECKS and BALANCES.

This is a great Easy Essay by Peter Maurin. Most of his Easy Essays were written in the 1930's, Depression time frame (here is a link with a lot more Easy Essays - they are GREAT: (Here is a bio of Peter Maurin, a hero for the ages:

"Modern society has made the bank account the standard of values.
When the bank account becomes the standard of values the banker has the power.
When the banker has the power the technician has to supervise the making of profits.
When the banker has the power the politician has to assure law and order in the profit-making system.
When the banker has the power the educator trains students in the technique of profit making.
When the banker has the power the clergyman is expected to bless the profit-making system or to join the unemployed.
When the banker has the power the Sermon on the Mount is declared unpractical.
When the banker has the power we have an acquisitive, not a functional society."

I think there is NO QUESTION that given the events of the past few months that the banker has the power. Ordinary, working Americans DO NOT have the power. To try to make the case that they do, would be laughable, if it weren't so sad.

The Peter Maurin Easy Essay above is a fairly good explanation as to why we taxpayers are bailing them out, while everyday, ordinary Americans are going under in several different ways (Foreclosure, Unemployment, Lack of Health Care, Hunger, etc).

The question to me is, do we currently have a functional society or an acquisitive one?

I think for many years, we've certainly had an acquisitive society. Unfortunately, it was based on a lot of cheap, easily obtained credit. Now, the bills are coming due. They have to be paid, and we don't get to buy any more neat stuff on easy credit. This causes a problem for the people who make and sell things - if nobody is buying (not because they don't have the desire, they don't have the means), that is just one more problem in the economy.

I think we've liked to pretend that we've had a functional society. Certainly we have given the APPEARANCE of having a functional society, with all the "trappings" (until the social order breaks down like it did after Hurricane Katrina, or the panic going on now with this economic downturn).

When the economy does recover (and it WILL recover eventually in some form - but maybe not with huge annual growth from here on out), what will we have learned? Anything? At the end of it all, will the banker still have the power, or will ordinary Americans have taken back the power?

Let's hope it's ordinary Americans.