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October 24th, 2008

Welcome To Planet Earth Mr. Greenspan. And How Was Your Stay On Planet Rand…?

In my college years I succumbed to the rhetoric of Ayn Rand.  So did a lot of folks, some well before me.  Alan Greenspan for one, who was at one time a member of her inner circle.  I became a Libertarian.  Fiercely so.  But to my credit I think, I never let my new found ideology interpret reality for me.  Eventually Ronald Reagan showed me what sort of people make money synonymous with morality, and the kind of government we were likely to end up with with them in charge.  So I shrugged…and left both Rand and her bastard child, the Libertarian party.  Is it so insufferably arrogant of me to say that I’ve been waiting for the rest of them to wise up ever since?

Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation

For years, a Congressional hearing with Alan Greenspan was a marquee event. Lawmakers doted on him as an economic sage. Markets jumped up or down depending on what he said. Politicians in both parties wanted the maestro on their side.

But on Thursday, almost three years after stepping down as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

I had my Damascus moment twenty years ago you drooling moron and it was called the Silverado Savings and Loan Scandal.  You could have seen then if you’d just taken a look at it, that what happens when financial institutions are deregulated is a mad rush to stuff other people’s, mostly working people’s money into their pockets.  Self interest after all, is about Self, not about the institution you work for, let alone the communities they serve.  It doesn’t matter if the whole shitpile collapses if you can get out of it with enough cash to live in the lap of luxury for the rest of your life, does it?  If self-interest is all there is to it, then you’ve done pretty good haven’t you…even if thousands of other people had to loose everything so you could live high on the hog.

Greed is, contrary to Randian dogma, Not Good.  Ambition is good.  But ambition is self actualizing.  You want to become something.  Something better.  Greed is just wanting what someone else has.  There was a time when I believed that Rand’s attempt to redefine Greed as Ambition was just an artifact of her not knowing English natively.  But no…she knew what she was doing.  It was from the beginning, all about raping the working class for the benefit of the rich and powerful.  Her revenge for the communist appropriation of her father’s pharmacy.  If she couldn’t stick it to the Russian proletariat, she could at least help the rich here in America carpet their mansions with the life savings of working Americans.  She raised a generation on her Greed Is Good religion.  And when they got the power they craved, they put her ideas into practice.  The only practice they could have been put to.  The only practice they were ever meant to be put to…

401k Losses May be Double than Previously Thought

Along with the rest of America, Rep. George Miller has watched the value of his retirement investments plummet in recent weeks.

"I’ve lost 30 percent like everybody else. This hits home with the Miller family, too," the California Democrat said in a recent interview.

In recent years, Congress has promoted the dramatic movement in corporate America away from defined-benefit pensions to 401(k)s with policies encouraging automatic enrollment and raising contribution limits. Under 401(k) plans employees contribute to their own investment accounts and assume the risks and rewards that go with them. Lately, with the crisis on Wall Street and across the globe, it’s been more risk than reward.

Earlier this month, Miller’s House Education and Labor Committee found that Americans’ retirement plans, pension plans and 401(k)s included, have lost as much as $2 trillion in the past 15 months– about 20 percent of their value. At a committee hearing Wednesday in San Francisco, Miller cited new research suggesting that the losses might be as much as double that.

And they almost got Social Security during the Bush administration too.  Remember that?  They were going to let individuals "invest" their retirement money.  Basically, give it to Wall Street to play with.  It was going to be better then Social Security…just like our 401ks were going to be better then real pensions.  When the butcher’s bill for decades of Randian inspired market deregulation is added up, a lot of folks are going to be Real Glad they didn’t get their hands on that trust fund too.

In the coming years, as the folks who lined their pockets during the past few decades with other people’s life savings are made to pay some of it pack, there is going to be a lot of bellyaching from the high and mighty about class warfare.  As though they haven’t been engaging in it themselves.  Once upon a time the robber barons lived by the simple maxim that might makes right.  If they thought of it at all in moralistic terms they saw themselves as a kind of Darwinism in action…survival of the fittest and all that.  Then Rand came along and told them that anyone who isn’t rich is a leach on those who are.  Capitalism, by which she meant the unrestrained greed motive of the rich and powerful, was not only the best economic system, it was the only Moral one.  Now in the higher echelons of wealth, raping the rest of us isn’t merely something you do because you can.  Now it’s your moral obligation. 

But no amount of apologetics can make what is essentially a pillage and conquest based economic model work for very long, now that we’re not living in caves anymore.  Cooperation is necessary.  Trust is necessary.  For there to be rewards for industriousness, there also need to be guards against perdition.  The marketplace needs a cop on the block, or it simply degenerates into gang warfare and shear thievery and collapses.  Preying on other people, trusting people, naive people, weaker people, is not made into a workable, sustainable economic model simply by calling it good.  Greed is not good.

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