William Grieder on Finance and Washington
August 4, 2008 - 10:43am ET
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William Greider's newest piece for the Nation goes directly and simply to the politics of U.S. financial policy in a crisis. Throughout his career, Bill has bored into and through the questions of how are economy, and political economy operate. He has cast his eagle eye on nearly every aspect of the realm where economics and politics meet.
From The Economic Education of David Stockman on budget priorities, to Secrets of the Temple on the essence of the Federal Reserve System, to Who Will Tell the People, on the industry that creates a porous boundary between the property rights of our body politic and those of individuals and corporations and the media that covers up for them, to One World Ready or Not about the none too subtle grind of a process where the scope of the market is larger than the domain of the sovereign, Greider has explored and debunked and illuminated the world in which we live.
And his most recent book, The Soul of Capitalism, turned a corner and asked what kind of world do we want to live in. This brave endeavor, by creating contrast, showed how far off course our economic system has gone.
Naive rationale says that market systems i.e. the economy , is a MEANS to achieve social goals. and finance is a MEANS to support commerce. Greider's work has underscored that the servant's servant has become the master's master.
Greider's work, in unmasking of free market myths, and illuminating the corruption of political actors in Washington D.C., gives nourishment to social critics on both the left and right.
I have known Bill for many years and have learned a tremendous amount from him both substantively and in the realm of emotion and carving out one's life purpose. I have seen him abused by economists and journalists, only to see the abusers turn and start to mouth his arguments as though they were their own, shortly thereafter, without attribution. I have experienced his tenacity, even when he wondered aloud if anyone was listening.
Yet what I have learned most from Bill Greider is that a man or woman who tells the world what they see with their eyes and feel in their heart is one who has lived a meaningful life. There are so many people across the political spectrum who have been encouraged and fortified by his voice. Many more than he knows.
His is a voice that has stood strong and alone. His is a voice that has been valuable at every step of the journey. Bill Greider's voice has never been more needed than now, when the eggshell veneer of all the economic dogma of market fundamentalism is crashing along with the financial firms at its core. After all, we have to put this economy and society back together again and the risks of an authoritarian reaction are not small in crisis times.
His piece below is an agenda. A vision. A beacon, like a lighthouse that calls the mariner home from a stormy sea. After all these years of unyielding reporting and crying out we can pray that our society will emerge and see the purpose of economy and politics through the lens that Bill Greider has provided. He is a guiding light.
Economic Free Fall?
By William Greider
Washington can act with breathtaking urgency when the right people want something done. In this case, the people are Wall Street's titans, who are scared witless at the prospect of their historic implosion. Congress quickly agreed to enact a gargantuan bailout, with more to come, to calm the anxieties and halt the deflation of Wall Street giants. Put aside partisan bickering, no time for hearings, no need to think through the deeper implications. We haven't seen "bipartisan cooperation" like this since Washington decided to invade Iraq.
In their haste to do anything the financial guys seem to want, Congress and the lame-duck President are, I fear, sowing far more profound troubles for the country. First, while throwing our money at Wall Street, government is neglecting the grave risk of a deeper catastrophe for the real economy of producers and consumers. Second, Washington's selective generosity for influential financial losers is deforming democracy and opening the path to an awesomely powerful corporate state. Third, the rescue has not succeeded, not yet. Banking faces huge losses ahead, and informed insiders assume a far larger federal bailout will be needed--after the election. No one wants to upset voters by talking about it now. The next President, once in office, can break the bad news. It's not only about the money--with debate silenced, a dangerous line has been crossed. Hundreds of billions in open-ended relief has been delivered to the largest and most powerful mega-banks and investment firms, while government offers only weak gestures of sympathy for struggling producers, workers and consumers.
The bailouts are rewarding the very people and institutions whose reckless behavior caused this financial mess. Yet government demands nothing from them in return--like new rules for prudent behavior and explicit obligations to serve the national interest. Washington ought to compel the financial players to rein in their appetite for profit in order to help save the country from a far worse fate: a depressed economy that cannot regain its normal energies. Instead, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Democratic Congress and of course the Republicans meekly defer to the wise men of high finance, who no longer seem so all-knowing.
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