Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Postcards from the End of Capitalism

Fosco doesn't like to write about our ongoing economic collapse. For one thing, it's hella depressing. For another thing, Fosco is no economist and he truly believes that, with the exception of maybe thirty or forty people in this country (including David Harvey), no one else knows what they're talking about when it comes to the economics of this mess. And so it's probably better for all of the know-nothings (Fosco included) to shut up and cede the field to people who know something.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't occasionally stories that need to be told. Nor does that mean that stupid ideas shouldn't be mocked. And so, Fosco brings you a roundup of several notable stories from the last week or so of economic melting...

  • Just in case you thought the global economic troubles were only affecting rich people (and you would be thinking that... why?), allow this BBC article to reassure you that the poor are getting theirs too. See:
    In a new report, the IMF says poor countries face greater exposure to the current crisis because they are more integrated into the international economy than they used to be.

    They are likely to feel the impact through a downturn in trade and falls in foreign investment and remittances - money sent home by people working abroad, the fund adds.

    The report says more than 20 countries, half of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, are particularly vulnerable.
    I don't know why this is a surprise to anyone. Either way, it's more bad news for the global poor.

  • Speaking of global collapse, things aren't too rosy in Ireland, either. Hey, remember when Walnuts McCain touted all the magically delicious Irish corporate tax policy? I'm not sure that's working too well, right now.

    Like most other wealthy Western nations, Ireland is in money trouble. And they're raising taxes and cutting spending (as a government must do in this situation). But, unlike the US, Ireland has decided to raise taxes and cut pay for all citizens. As you may expect, this is creating a wave of populist anger:
    The government is simultaneously raiding the National Pensions Reserve Fund for euro7 billion ($8.8 billion) to support the country's two biggest banks and has taken over a scandal-stricken third, Anglo Irish, after its directors were discovered hiding their own loans and losses.

    More than 100,000 workers marched last month on the parliament to demand that the nation's tax-exile elite — and even its billionaire rock icons, U2 — be forced to pay far more to keep their country from drowning in red ink.

    Unions representing 700,000 workers in this country of 4 million are balloting members to strike, among them the Irish Nursing Organization. It argues that the government should be seizing the assets of bankers and property developers who helped bring one of Europe's most vibrant economies to its knees, not squeezing life-and-death services.
    Fosco is certainly on board with punitive seizure of the assets of the crooks who fucked everything up. But, even more so, Fosco loves the idea of taxing the hell out of U2--mainly because of their terrible new CD.

  • I'm sure the whole Madoff saga could be sadder: it could still be revealed that his primary investors included a litter of terminally ill puppies. But, in the absence of dying baby animals, this might be the next saddest thing. You know Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel? Well, Madoff stole his money. And not just his money, but the entire endowment of Wiesel's foundation--a foundation with the mission "to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality." As this article notes:
    He said the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity had $15.2 million under management with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, substantially all of its assets. Wiesel said he and his wife also lost personal investments, but he did not disclose the amount.
    And now, the eighty-year-old Wiesel is faced with a nasty moral dilemma in the twilight of his life: how to respond to someone like Madoff? Well, as far as Fosco is concerned, Wiesel has made the right choice: refusing forgiveness.
    "Could I forgive him? No," Wiesel said during a discussion, "Madoff and the Meltdown," hosted by Conde Nast Portfolio magazine. "First of all, it would mean he would come on his knees and ask for forgiveness. He wouldn't do that."
    Even if he did, I hope Wiesel could find it in his heart to refuse forgiveness.

  • And this is where things start to take a turn toward the ridiculous. You know how greed, lack of regulation, and laissez-faire capitalism may be just a little bit to blame for our current troubles? So naturally the Bible of that brand of capitalism, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, is more popular than it has been in years. Wait. What?

    Gawker is flummoxed by this development, wondering how such "libertarian porn" could seem relevant right now. HuffPo weighs in on the broader question of a revival of Randism, noting that the Right has decided to "double down" on Rand's deluded fantasies in opposition to tax increases on the super-rich. Somehow, I don't really see this working very well.

    However, in fairness to the book, Atlas Shrugged does have a nice art deco cover--which should please the BeeMaster.

  • If Ayn Rand is to be believed, we should be genuflecting to the Masters of Capitalism, because they're all better than the rest of us. They're smarter, more vigorous, more heroic. Clearly, she means the CEOs of our major US banks (among others). Clearly then, we should be paying rapt attention to these people, hoping for nuggets of their wisdom.

    Luckily, stories like this can help us to understand the minds of these Gods on Earth. You may want to take notes as former Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne shares with us his informed and insightful opinion about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner:
    "This guy thinks he's got a big d--. He's got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend."
    Charming. Classy. Stop: you're both right!

    Wait, have we been trusting our entire American financial system to a bunch of foul-mouthed frat boys? This guy is one of Wall Street's "best and brightest"? No wonder our economy is fucked: trillions of dollars of wealth evaporates and this guy wants to have a dick-measuring contest?

    I think this bodes badly. In his doomsayer blog Clusterfuck Nation, professional pessimist James Howard Kunstler has been wondering how much time we have
    before the public simply goes apeshit and starts burning down Greenwich, Connecticut.
    All I know is that people like Jimmy Cayne make me want to grab my torch and sharpen my pitchfork.

Books mentioned in this post can be purchased:


Dave W said...

I was spoon fed Ayn Rand as a child and believed it for a while before common sense took over. 'Libertarian porn' is a good way to describe it.

FOSCO said...

Eek! I'm sorry to hear that Dave. It's good you escaped, though.

As for me, I spent an entire year in high school carrying around Atlas Shrugged. I thought it was the frakkin bible. My teachers must have thought I was a dick--assuming they knew what the book was about. Luckily, I too managed to grow out of it.