Last night on the Charlie Rose Show, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said something that doubtless sent a shiver through financial markets. He said, "Capitalism will be different." It is the most elegant way of putting it that we've heard so far.
As noted by Peter Bray on Slate this week, the White House web site has amended George W Bush's bio. The change is a telling one, and it does make Bush look a wee tiny bit better. But why did it happen? Why that edit? I would suggest it's a move in the same simpler direction indicated by Geithner's comment about capitalism. Maybe it is another stride into the clear light of day.
The website used to say, "President Bush worked with the Congress to create an ownership society and build a future of security, prosperity, and opportunity for all Americans." Now? "President Bush has worked to extend freedom, opportunity, and security at home and abroad." What happened to our ownership society?
The change jumped out at me, because I think too much about ownership and money these days. I have a layman's grasp of toxic assets and the exotic varieties of financial instrument that were concocted by those MBA hedge funders who allegedly created this mess with their beyond toxic mix of tremendous book smarts and nonexistent morality. That said, I have a very real understanding of my bottom line, and I don't need an advanced degree in finance to know that it's harder to make budget since the bottom fell out of our economy.
The hedge funders didn't really create the problems we now face. They just took advantage of it. Reaganomics created this mess. It is the unnatural fruit of deregulation and laissez-faire economic policy. This economic crisis was built on great (and ever so colonialist) American notions like Manifest Destiny--that there was always a farther horizon to reach, and a never-ending supply of "empty" newness to fill up and commodify. As Edward Abbey once said, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." He left out, "and the ideology of the Grand Ol' Party."
The whole notion of an ownership society is a frame that was deployed to push the largest real estate swindle since the notion of the New World was "marketed" to the inhabitants of the Americas with a combination of magic mirrors, firearms, and disease. You make more money available, and, guess what happens.... That's right, property values increase. The more people who have more access to cheap money, the more expensive things get--things like houses and apartments; you know, real estate. If that increase in money is based on something, like, say, a tangible asset (gold will do as an example), fine. Without getting into the specifics (because I can't in my fondest dreams), that influx of money was not anchored to Fort Knox these past thirty years.
How do you explain that the yesteryear CEO of a company the size of Johnson and Johnson made, back in the seventies, what an SVP makes today? How could the top job at a top company magically acquire a payout that boasted an additional three or four zeros? It couldn't. Not naturally. So where did that money come from? Out of thin air. Magic money instruments. Fictions of economic theory inflicted on everyday people for the fun and profit of a miniscule segment of the population.
Does Team Obama care more about country and the office of the president than it does about the truth? Was the new administration scrubbing the office of the president clean of the filth that accumulated during the Bush years? Is this even ballpark correct regarding why they changed Bush's bio? Am I a crazed loon who's merely incensed about the economy? All of the above? Worse? (I'm sure I'll find out in the comments section.)
It seems at least plausible that the whole "ownership society" thing is tainted with the Orwellian overtones of white-collar crime, and maybe that's a little too much for us to take in just yet. (Or maybe I'm nuts--but I said that already.) Still, hard truths are best administered in small doses. Changing the wording of Bush's bio qualifies as a small dose of truth-charged change because Bush's ownership society was built on a Ponzi scheme.
Why the change on the White House website? The above "explanation" (we'd call it a rant around these parts) may be simplistic and peevish (even for me), but it sure did feel good to get it out of my system.