"'Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations.' That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize! We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it! Corruption is our protection! Corruption keeps us safe and warm! Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets! Corruption is why we win!"
The quote is from the film Syriana, and the character that delivers the passionate/delusional diatribe is Danny Dalton, a Texas oilman and member of Committee to Liberate Iran. Dalton is a patsy, and is being charged with "corruption" in order to protect a much larger, much more corrupt corporation standing behind him. He's a fall-guy, and that's why he flies off the handle.
Watching the Bush administration and Wall Street executives gulp and thrash like beached fish made me think of little Dalton. The stock market isn't a force of nature. It takes men and women (but mostly men) creating very corrupt policies to create America's initial wealth, and then her downfall.
Everyone needs to stop acting like they're surprised by the recession. It's not cute, and it's painfully insincere.
There's been a proliferation of handwringing and philosophizing about what caused the economic collapse, why there was little impetus to aggressively address a rotting subprime industry, why our politicians were too lazy, slow, or indifferent to do something to address Wall Street's broken ways.
Times of economic woes are the only time our society collectively examines the Free Market, and the effects of globalization -- rarely on the world -- but on us, Americans. How will this screw us? How long will it last? How will this vast machine affect us parochially?
Americans pretend like this is the others' problem, and that they don't also benefit from our corrupt society. Wall Street practices are certainly corrupt, but the problem isn't contained to mortgage lenders, banks, and insurance companies. It's pandemic and it has infected every facet of the American way of life.
The dirty truth no one wants to admit is that corruption floats America to the top. Only by utilizing cheap labor, deregulation, and speculative lending can our markets create extraordinary wealth. Wall Street occasionally acts as though it has just awoken from a strange nightmare because it's necessary to act moral every now and then, namely when the press shows up.
Now is the time financial experts act like they have no idea how market bubbles inflate, CEOs get bonuses 100 times their annual salaries, and people like Bernie Madoff exist.
Regulation is trendy right now, but what that actually entails may surprise Americans. If our government seriously regulated the Free Market, and extended that moral behavior to the international community with living wages and humane worker conditions, it would profoundly change the way Americans live.
The price of our food, clothing, and other goods would increase. Fuel would skyrocket. Everything would be more expensive, and we would have to do with a lot less. CEOs would surrender their penthouses and yachts. Certain exotic fruits like bananas would suddenly cost much more now that Central American workers are permitted to unionize and demand living wages.
On the plus side, maybe less children would die and more people could have a shot at stability and happiness. Maybe cases of infectious disease would decline. Maybe people would drive less. Maybe we could save the world.
Of course, Americans would have to sacrifice, and they have a history of hating that. But things are changing now. There's a murmur in this society, and it seems to be saying: Our way of life is broken. We need to fundamentally change the way we live.
People want regulation. They want less enormous wealth and extraordinary poverty. They want balance and justice. But they have to stop looking to the men that made the corruption to fix the problem. Americans have to demand the presence of independent sheriffs to watch industry 24/7 in order to right the wrongs of our corrupt past.
If regulation actually existed, things would be a lot less cushy for Americans, which would probably be a good thing, but some may suddenly miss that corruption that kept them so sheltered for so long.
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