10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Days Of Dancing For Dollars Long Gone

"The 90s may have spoiled us, b!"

That was the great Joan Morgan, in one of a million conversations this past weekend about the economy.

Things done changed since the Cristal-sipping days, back when artists routinely dropped a milli on their videos. But now all of the chickens have come home to roost.

In the late 90s, the dealings in Lower Manhattan partly help make the hip-hop bubble possible. People were making money off making money. And hip-hop made them look good. We made it so that even if you weren't hip-hop, you could go down to Soho--yes, Soho--and buy in.

This past weekend, the one after our economy collapsed, it was clear on the hard cobblestone streets of Soho that our days of dancing for dollars were over. In just the past year, Phat Farm and Stussy's flagship stores have shuttered. Bape, Supreme, and Union's traffic are mostly European and Asian tourists. Even Clientele's clientele is thin these days. Adidas stays in the game by discounting its limited edition shoes and shifting most of its floor space to clothing.

What did they used to say? When America coughs, urban America is in the sickbed. America is long past coughing at this point.

Now the dealings in War-shington could define a whole new era, or lead us back to 1973.

On Sunday, as his old company Goldman Sachs looked like it was ready to leap off the precipice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson went on the morning shows to propose himself as the Monarch of the Economy and to have Congress approve the idea by the end of the week.

When deregulation is your mantra, democracy--the people--cannot be trusted to regulate the market. So Paulson claimed decision-making power above the review of the court or other agencies--"greater powers (over the economy)," according to one finance industry insider, "than even the President enjoys."

When trickle-down is your economic theory, corporations are the only individuals worth rehabilitating. So Paulson proposed a Troubled Asset Relief Program--TARP, as its called--to use $700 billion or more of your money to purchase nearly worthless assets from some of the biggest corporate debt abusers.

There is a hip-hop analogy here: in the Bronx in the '70s, slumlords bought up apartment buildings, then hired arsonists to burn them down so that they could pocket the insurance money. Who was left homeless? Not the slumlords.

With the TARP in place, Paulson and his friends can leave their posts at the end of the year and return to a still-bottoming Wall Street that grazes on lucrative funds from War-shington as real folk continue to lose their homes. Critics call this process nationalizing the risk and debt while privatizing the profit.

Talk about the Audacity of Despair.

That's why finance industry lobbyists are licking their chops over Paulson's proposal. Some news reports suggest that this particular bailout plan was sitting on the shelf for the right moment. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

Conspiracy or not, there are shades here of the Shock Doctrine--Naomi Klein's name for the strategy of free-marketeers and their governments to use catastrophes as opportunities to lay waste to countries while creating secure economic, social, and political Green Zones for the rich. What happens in Baghdad--and Santiago and Buenos Aires and Jakarta and...--eventually comes home to New York and War-shington.

Paulson's TARP proposal locks into place the same lack of accountability and transparency that came to define the Patriot Act, the Iraq War Resolution, pro-torture policy, and more for the entire funny-money economy.

And where was W. in all of this, our fair President? After speaking on the economy for short minutes this past weekend, he presumably retired to the West Wing to continue putting together his favorite things for his Presidential Library.

Yesterday, he sent Cheney out on his first Congressional mission since the Iraq War Resolution. He rewrote a speech to the UN yesterday to reassure the world.
Goodnight Bush, indeed.

I said it a while ago and I stand by it: W. is our generation's Herbert Hoover, the Republican president who led us into the Great Depression. We are now staring down into our own economic depths. The bankers want to make sure it won't be them leaping out of the buildings this time.

But if Paulson's deal is so good to Wall Street, why is the market still plunging? The spin is that markets are now reacting to instability in War-shington. There may be a better explanation.

Over the past decade, corporate hucksters sold a fantasy of pure profit, from Enron through Lehman--one that hip-hop all too often bought in our desire to identify with those large and in charge. But markets cannot function for long on a foundation of obscure financial instruments, accounting shell-games, and corporate lies.

The markets come back down to the people, and perhaps the people are now finding the word now to sum up their judgment.


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