Friday, September 26, 2008
THE WALL STREET THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS
History has proven that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While many understand this concept with respect to political systems, it is also true in other areas of human activity. Absolute power over anything is a corrupting influence that casts its pall over religion, economics, news, education, economics and most other aspects of society.
While all desire a totally free society, we have found that human frailty and perceived imperfection has not permitted such a system. Even in the early dawn of civilization, it was evident that those with the biggest clubs and the strong would prey upon the weak. Big men stole from the small, big nations raped and pillaged the meek, and a concentration of power and wealth with accompanying abuse is the subject of World History I. From the Mongols and the Romans, the absolute monarchies of the 17th/18th centuries to Hitler and Stalin and Burma, it has been clear that absolute political power leads to abuse and atrocities.
The same soon appeared with regard to religious power. Those who did not follow the dogma and dictates of state religions were burned, fed to the lions and cast out. Even the modern religious institutions are rife with historical terrorism. Under the banner of “onward Christian soldiers” religions of cultures like the American Indians and those of Africa were systematically destroyed. The term Inquisition is well documented in the annals of theological abuses.
During the era of the great monarchies, economic systems were also subject to abuse and corruption. The supply of goods and services served one purpose; to increase the wealth of the king or queen. Under the system of mercantilism, lands were conquered for colonies, resources were stolen for the mother country and gold and silver were stashed in the king’s vaults. However, the growth of a middle class and increased agricultural technology gave rise to a new line of economic thought; CAPITALISM.
Out of the ashes of the absolute power of kings grew an economic system that called for no government interference in the affairs of business. Thinkers like Malthus and Smith said that an economy free of government intervention would grow and prosper. The Industrial Revolution had begun! With the movement of population to the city factories blossomed and society and business planted the seeds that have ripened in the 21st century. With absolute control over money, goods and services, industry created the highest standard of living in the world. But in keeping with the problem of absolute power, the system became corrupt as sweat shops, poverty wages, unsafe conditions, company stores, child labor, monopolies and other abuses demanded government intervention. Anti-trust legislation, safety regulations, child labor laws and other government regulations were enacted to save the public from the devouring mouth of unfettered capitalism.
Bring the history to modern times and we have Reaganomics once again de-regulating industry in order to free them to pursue globalization. Up until now, all appeared well,
but the ugly head of absolute power reared its head. It has been all about making more money regardless of how it was made. Profit became the new monarch and abuse has now brought the American and maybe even the world economy to its knees. If you have watched the news you must know that our financial institutions are collapsing. Congress and the White House have been trying to undo in one week what has taken years to create. Sides have been taken and the “free marketers” have lined up against the “regulators.” While it is clear that lack of oversight and regulation created an economic monster gone amok, there are those who still think that less regulation, tax breaks and guarantees. This is money for the rich and the few at the expense of the many. After all, it is the lack of regulation that has created the current crisis. The questions are: how much regulation is needed; how much will it cost to fix the problem and, who will pay the ferryman?
There is one thing that is certain, our economy is in very deep trouble and the blame has washed up on the shores of Wall Street. New house construction is at a recent history low, unemployment is up, job creation down, credit is tight, retail is down, durable goods are way off and the near future has the lights on dim. There is another certainty; the age-old top down fix will not work. Actually, it has never worked. While greed, corruption and misuse of economic power may be causal in the current crisis, the solution is at the bottom of this power pyramid in the hands of the people. I, for one, favor putting the “bail out” money in the hands of the consumer so they can pay their mortgages, pay down credit cards, buy alternative energy products and stimulate jobs. I also favor reducing absurd interest rates on credit purchases, putting a mandatory low interest on mortgages, banning flexible rates and closely regulating financial institutions. Democracy and a controlled economy are not antithetical.
Like the Grinch, Wall Street is in the process of stealing this Christmas and perhaps others. We can also take another Grinch lesson, the true meaning of most holidays’ lies not in things, but in the spirit of why the holiday even exists. The real way to reduce the power of the wealthy and Wall Street is not to want what they have, but rather to redefine the very concept of wealth. If money is the most important thing, then it, and those who control it, have power over your life. But if what they have is not valued, then they have no power to control your life. Be of good cheer, be informed, let your feelings be known and vote your conscious in the upcoming election and let the Wall Street Grinch get what it deserves.