The Decider announces the end of triumphalist capitalism.
Whose zoo do these simians belong in now?
(International Herald Tribune 19 September 2008)
The Soviet behemoth with its official fantasy of the communist brotherhood of man looked after by apparatchiks who could make a million shoes to fit the wrong foot and keep everyone in fearful penury finally stumbled into vodka soaked oblivion in 1991. It had taken roughly a generation from the death grip of a psychopathic Stalin for Gorbachev’s glimmer of human decency to assert itself.
Another psychopath, Mao, rightly saw the Soviet transition as a fatal personal threat and did his best to destroy the Chinese people before they got any funny ideas about making a decent living. Luckily good old fashioned mortality dispatched Mao’s corpse to the underworld in 1976, and China could get on with pretending that black cats were white cats, fat cats were alley cats, and gloriously getting rich was socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Bestriding the world like an inflatable colossus in 2000, George Bush and his cabal set about forcing the world to be for him or agin’ him. It turned out we were mostly agin’ him, but that didn’t trouble his voter base too much since like George they thought the other 94% of the world’s population came from the Discovery TV Channel, and weren’t god fearing Christians anyway. While the world went to hell, back on the ranch George and friends presided over a remarkable transition in America’s fortunes. He turned the treasury’s record surplus into a record deficit that would indebt ordinary Americans for generations. Bucks by the billion were shoveled out to every military privateer, corporate crook and pork barreling politician who could buy an invite to his Washington prayer breakfasts. The bucks came easily since they were a fiat currency floating on lofty rhetoric in an economy that hardly produced anything except Wall Street banking sharks. Plane loads of these dollars could easily also be shipped to oil sheiks, querulous Koreans, evasive Japanese tycoons and smelly Chinese businessmen in track suits. These dopes, after paying for their children’s education in private American colleges, had little option but to ship the rest of the dollars back to buy nearly worthless American treasury bonds.
Meanwhile your ordinary Americans turkeys grew fat, then gross on hamburgers and ice cream, learned that history was reciting the names of America’s past presidents, worked fitfully giving each other haircuts, sold themselves into serfdom to pay off a cars they shouldn’t have needed and a houses they couldn’t afford, were afraid to take holidays, and died from pandemics of unnecessary diseases, humming the Star Spangled Banner and groggily unaware that whole swathes of those inferior foreigners lived lives vastly superior to the American way. George and his friends had been given their Yale ‘C’ passes precisely because the self-styled American ruling class knew that owning this whole pathological turkey farm was their devine right, and plundering it was their devine pleasure. You didn’t need brains to run a turkey farm.
It took a while, but like the Soviet fantasy and the Mao insanity, American hubris has finally come crashing down. Or has it? Somebody had a bad acid trip, and the lousy mood snowballed. House prices dropped. Millions of turkeys really couldn’t pay their housing loans, even working in three jobs. That little inconvenience ripped the masks off some merchant banking slime, who’d flogged lousy risk mortgages in bundles as high grade securities. As that card fell, it turned out that the whole financial system was a house of cards, a ponsi scheme with flim-flam salesmen all the way down the line. Now they are all sitting in coffee shops with flat laptop batteries, glaring at each other, and without a surviving rich sucker in sight.
Enter the cavalry. George rides up on his white horse, trying to concentrate long enough to pronounce ‘crisis’, and announces that he decides the rules of the casino. It’s pretty easy. So we privatized profit? Heck, we can nationalize debt. Just print more tons of dollar bills, load the American turkeys with a trillion dollars of public debt, and the Wall Street glitterati can get back to encrusting paper mache castles with tinsel.
So the crookedest brains in Moscow, Beijing and Washington didn’t want to make a system that worked for you or me. Has anyone managed to do it? Well, yes, more or less, for brief moments in history. Virtue, like vice, is a temporary affair with unpredictable outcomes. There are and have been good governments and fine leaders. If we are born into such a place under such guidance, we take it for granted, get lazy, get greedy and the whole thing slips into the abyss. The next generation is duly lied to, mostly never learns from history, and the whole hopeless struggle begins again.
As for those blips on history’s radar, capitalism and communism, and shandy socialism, well they are like the inflatable colossus of George Bush. Poke them with a pin and they expire with a sigh into ageless properties of the human character. Laughter and tears, generosity and greed define each other as surely as black and white. Capitalism and communism are spokes in the wheel of every culture. Smash either and the wheel rim of dreams will collapse, the hub of pragmatic living will no longer turn. There is a felicitous middle way between extremes that our forefathers wisely called the golden mean.