“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they won’t have to worry about answers.”
This little slice of insight appears in Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel, “Gravity’s Rainbow”; I’ve unfortunately had many occasions to reflect on it recently.
Now that our country has experienced the terrible recession of 2008, a financial catastrophe far worse than anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes, we are naturally looking around for The Fix. How do we get our economy back? Everybody’s got an idea: Spend on infrastructure. Cut government spending. Lower Taxes. Raise taxes! Slash those “entitlements”! Tackle the national debt!
These are real issues, and important ones. But in leaping right to them, some real questions, ones that go to the heart of what happened, are being ignored. Here are two good ones: Who were the main players that punched a seven- or eight-trillion-dollar hole in our economy? And have they been required to dig us out of the hole? Hint: answer number one is “Our largest financial institutions”, and answer number two is “Not at all.”
The terrible irony of our lives now is that the major perpetrators of this disastrous situation have actually seen their crimes rewarded, while many of those who were victims of those crimes are being required to make the economy whole. Not asked, but required. And these less-affluent people are at the same time being lectured about their shortcomings, e.g., How could you be so irresponsible? How could you allow this situation to arise?
It is possible to appreciate the depth of this irony only when you carefully observe the look of (possibly) genuine confusion on the face of someone like Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, when he is asked to explain the contempt with which much of the American public regards him. Breathtaking to realize that the engineers of the debacle are so removed from its reality that they can’t fully acknowledge its severity, nor their role in it. They are giants, demi-gods of the private sector, after all—to whom we should be grateful. Who else has the talent and expertise to borrow money from the Federal Reserve at 0.5% interest, and then lend it to homeowners at 4%? This must be genius.
Truly the most astounding headline in all of this, however, is the fact that most Americans seem willing to give the financial sector a pass. We’ve been virtually mute. Almost nothing was said about it by either candidate in the recent presidential election campaign, though Wall Street has paid essentially no price for its fraudulent behavior, and now represents an even greater danger to our society than before 2008.
The only possible explanation for this is that average citizens are now feeling so disempowered, so cynical, and so stressed by the demands of everyday survival, that they cannot or will not take a breath, look around, and demand that their elected representatives do something about the situation. What to do? Demand of your representatives that the big banks be broken up so they are not “too-big-to-fail.” Period. The government let them merge, so they have the power to take them apart again. It takes ten minutes to e-mail a representative, a senator, and the president. And with another five minutes, log onto the website “United Re:public”, a group that is seriously moving to get the dirty money not just out of elections, but out of lobbying, too.
If we do not do this, no one will. And it will be just a matter of time before the next, even more severe recession. This is not about Republicans or Democrats, by the way. It’s about Americans.