Fog City Journal
January 31, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Marc Norton
See if you can guess who said this:
“Clearly, a sizable portion of the assets created in recent years turned out to be ‘make believe,’ the result of an unsustainable, ephemeral bubble in housing and the churning out of increasingly exotic, ultimately toxic financial instruments.
“It’s one thing for folks and institutions that hold suspect paper to lose out, but it’s quite another when the process that created the stuff ends up undermining the global financial system and battering the lives of hundreds of millions of other people…
“Even those individuals not normally hostile to free markets now hold suspicions that capitalism is fundamentally based on greed and is immoral; that it enables the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor; that free markets are Darwinian places where the most ruthless operators unfairly crush smaller competitors and where the cost of vital products and services, such as health care and energy, are almost beyond the reach of those who need them…”
Did you guess that the author of these words is none other than Steve Forbes, editor of Forbes Magazine?
Of course, Forbes goes on to make the preposterous claim that the Real Problem with the economy is government intervention and over-regulation. Sure, Steve. But the fact that this bellwether publication of the corporate world is forced to elucidate an indictment of capitalism and acknowledge that it is having serious problems in the court of public opinion, should give pause to the high priests of the temple.
The economic news that fuels this trend is dire indeed. The economy may be recovering a bit from the Great Recession, but not if you are looking for a job. Doug Henwood, in his
Left Business Observer, wrote a while back that in a typical recession “employment declines for about ten months, and then begins a sharp recovery. Not this time. Had this been a normal recovery, employment would have bottomed out in November 2008, and turned up… Instead, we’ve lost nearly 5 million jobs.”
California alone lost well over a million jobs since the start of the Great Recession.
These numbers go a long way towards explaining the poll cited in Michael Moore’s 2009 movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. Among folks under 30, only 37% prefer capitalism. An astounding 33% percent prefer socialism. And 30% are undecided.
In Moore’s words: “Capitalism is an evil, and you can’t regulate evil.”
Even Ken Garcia, one of the stable of right-wing columnists in the San Francisco Examiner, wrote not long ago about the hypocrisy of “biotech behemoth Genentech.” According to Garcia, Genentech “pulled off one of the biggest ballot ruses seen in our once Golden State.” Genentech ponied up $1.6 million to defeat California state Proposition 24 in last November’s election, which would have overturned a notorious set of tax breaks for their corporate buddies. The No on Prop 24 campaign called the initiative a “job killer.” Election over, Genentech turned around and announced that it was laying off 800 workers in California – according to Garcia, “part of a global ‘operational excellence’ program that will see the firm cut nearly 5,000 jobs.”
I saw Inside Job a few weeks ago, the new documentary by Charles Ferguson, narrated by Matt Damon. Inside Job does a great job of explaining the financial meltdown that led to the Great Recession. It’s not an action flick, but it includes a rogues gallery of corporate, government and academic types who will scare the bejeezes out of you.
The tagline for Inside Job explains it all: “The global economic crisis of 2008 costs tens of millions of people their savings, their jobs, and their homes. This is how it happened. The film that cost $20,000,000,000,000 to make.”
If you are having trouble with all those zeros, that’s 20 trillion dollars. Gotta be the most expensive movie in history.
I don’t recall hearing a word about any of this in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. Perhaps that is because, as Robert Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute calmly intones for Inside Job, “It’s a Wall Street Government.”
Maybe that is why Corporate America lined up to praise Obama’s speech, including the chief economist for Wells Fargo, the head of the California Chamber of Commerce, even Jim Wunderman, CEO at the Bay Area Council. Said Wunderman: Obama’s speech “hit every theme near and dear to the Bay Area business community.”
Corporate America loved Obama’s speech for the same reason Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor, panned it. In Reich’s view, Obama “ignored the elephant in the room – unemployment. He failed to talk frankly about the structural problems – the disconnect between American corporate profits and American jobs.”
I’ll give Moore the last word here, from Capitalism: A Love Story:
“I’m off to Mass in a few hours. I’ll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must’ve been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally among 5,000 people?
“Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunches.