Monday, December 1, 2008

Bailout Madness

I’ve been feeling the need to write about something besides the financial bailout – the strangulation of Gaza, the mass fascist coup attempt in Thailand, the carnage in Mumbai – but the bailout money has been flowing so fast and in such fantastical amounts, it’s almost beyond superlatives and comprehension.

I titled one of these commentaries, “Cure Worse Than Disease” way back when we were talking less than a trillion dollars. Now by one reckoning we are up to $4.2 trillion, by another nearly $8 trillion. In addition to the recent well publicized bails of Citigroup to the tune of $320 billion and another $800 billion to a wide array of corporations in need of a handout, there’s the small matter of $2+ trillion in loans made to financial institutions by the Fed whose recipients it is trying to keep secret, else, the thinking goes, precipitate runs that would break them. Bloomberg is suing under the Freedom of Information Act to try to force transparency.

Bailout protagonists, which include just about everybody in government, business and the punditocracy, will explain the money is all about restoring confidence and is in the form of equity and investments so when the economy gets back on track, i.e., people return to their primary role as consumers and head back to the auto dealers in droves to buy the latest model, honcho-sized SUV’s - amongst other hallmarks of the consumption economy - and the government will get its/our money back.

The first point to consider is that the Fed has printed up or borrowed trillions of dollars to help its friends totally on its own, with no oversight from any level of the US government. The second ponderable is when it will all end. What if the job needs another five or ten trillion? And what if, and this is the real corker, people don’t go back to their stupid, heavily-indebted mindless-consumerist ways?

We are assured that the consequences of not acting to stem this massive economic breakdown would be staggering, mind boggling, catastrophic - to that you can add your choice of another ten or so similar words expressing disaster of epic proportions.

However, the magnitude of the resources going into this corporate feeding frenzy at the public coffers is so overwhelming, we are entering a lose-lose situation. If the money does in fact does succeed in keeping the banking sector afloat, it’ll come at a nearly unbearable cost to society.

The third question, which is only being asked by the those of us on the radical fringe: Why do we want to prop up and save a rotten system; one that’s dedicated to consumption in a world being overtaxed by unconscious, unsustainable consumption?

In any case the old ways are finished. It’ll be years before people have the theoretical ability to return to their mania for consumption and by then, if the economy does start to pickup, resource depletion and rising prices will end forever the possibility of that numbskull lifestyle.

This actually is a perfect time for those of us who recognize the world’s desperate need for transformational times, for there truly is a crisis ahead of us that dwarfs the current economic one. We are talking climate change, of course. We have received a one-off reprieve in the form of the economic breakdown: The world desperately needs to reduce all forms of resource consumption to avoid the worst of global warming.

We should be delighting in the drop in consumption and using the vast resources that are now going into beating the dying horse of the old economy and using them instead to build the new. In the act of emptying the resource barrel to try to prop up the old we are precluding the new, a change to a sustainable economy of well-being.

Personally, I don’t take delight in calamity as it causes wrenching difficulties for the bewildered and innocent; nonetheless, I think we can all appreciate its cathartic and catalytic powers. Ok, maybe I do take a little delight, but not because I like to see people suffer, but rather the belief that macro political and social changes seldom happen without the force of great events.

It’s hard to say if we still have the opportunity to properly respond and adapt to this calamity: the door is closing fast.

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