It was entirely appropriate that on the same day that I watched Inside Job, the remarkable film dissecting the corporate crooks at the heart of the economic meltdown, President Obama should have achieved the biggest sellout of his career in office so far by agreeing to continue with the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans.
What is left of Obama’s promises during the election? The candidate of change? The man who was going to change how business is done in Washington? The scourge of the lobbyists?
Words fail me. But they did not fail Charles Ferguson, who wrote, directed and researched this amazing film. Relentlessly, Ferguson lays out the facts of the American economic situation in 2008, and with a bewildering series of factual quotes, statements and advice given to the government and the biggest financial institutions by a variety of highly paid officials, he lays the blame for it all where it belongs --- on the people running the government’s supervisory agencies, on the CEOs of the biggest banks, insurance companies and (for want of a better term) institutions whose sole purpose in life, apparently, has been to accumulate more and more wealth into as few hands as possible.
I admit I am not an unbiased observer of these events, or of this film: I have believed since I was a youth that banks and insurance companies stand at the apex of the political devils I would like to see slain. I have quoted many times my high school teacher, who, in a rush of enthusiasm during one class, said to us schoolboys during the last days of the war, “There will be no millionaires in the future, you know. That is over.” A slight mistake of judgment on his part, but one that I wish had proven to be entirely true.
Anyone who, like me, has always believed that the the process of money making more money, is inherently evil, will see in Ferguson’s film the apotheosis of his dreams. Capitalism has finally been revealed for all to see as a system of governance that depends on human greed, pride and manipulation, and is thus inherently at odds with more humane ideologies that take into account that we are our brother’s keeper, and that everyone, by virtue of his or her existence, should have the right to a decent standard of living, to a job, food, clothing and shelter, and enough leisure to allow for the exercise of one’s inherent talents, whatever they may be.
This doesn’t even enter the capitalist mind, preoccupied as it always is with its objective of paying dividends to its investors, and (as the Ferguson film shows so clearly) of maintaining a world free of any interference in the wealth-producing system.
The so-called leaders who established the conditions for the recent meltdown include certainly Reagan, Thatcher, the Bushes, father and son, and Bill Clinton, who put the crown on the developing process of deregulation, and used the occasion to reduce social and welfare benefits payable to those who have fallen behind in the rat-race.
These leaders allowed sharp businessmen to create the instruments of accumulation which, ipso facto, meant a reduction in the amount of created wealth that was available for social benefits. I recall writing about this some years ago when reviewing the remarkable book, The Short Twentieth Century, by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm. Hobsbawm commented on how foolish was the prevailing assumption that a nation that was creating more wealth in the 1990s than it had in the 1970s, was nevertheless supposed to be no longer able to afford social benefits that had been affordable in the 1970s. Why had this happened? Because the private sector, these kings of enterprise who have since plunged the world economy into chaos through their greed, had managed, with the connivance of right-wing leaders, to obtain control over a greater proportion of the wealth created by the work of ordinary citizens.
And they weren’t about to share it….
This is the story so brilliantly told by Ferguson in his film. As one sits and watches this unfolding of the story of corporate greed, and stupidity from the so-called arbitrators and officials who should have been warning of the approaching holocaust, one’s heart literally sinks into one’s boots. How can such a thing have happened? How can we have elected leaders so opaque, so insensate in their right-wing ideologies, as to pull the whole pack of cards down around all of our necks?
Perhaps the greatest shock in the film comes at the end, when Ferguson remarks that the new administration in the United States, rich in promise of change, takes office, and nothing really changes. Why not? He asks. The answer is sick-making. “Because it is a Wall street administration,” he says. Then he runs through the list of personalities who have already appeared in the film as villains in the creation of this chaos, who have been appointed by the U.S. government under Obama to keep on running things. Summers, Paulson, Geithner….the list goes on an on, as it had previously in Michael Moore’s film Capitalism, A Love Story. Moore devoted a whole screen to pictures of the dozens of executives from the one firm, Goldman Sachs, who had been seconded over the years into the ranks of government turning the U.S. government, for many years past, into a sort of Goldman Sacks hierarchy.
The only thing I can think to suggest in face of the revelation of such infamy from government and business, is to recommend a reading of Howard Zinn’s remarkable book, A People’s History of the United States.
Zinn details how the elites in control of American society at the time framed the constitution so that they could control the emerging nation, and establishes that they have been running things ever since, in their own interests. But there has always been a tradition in the United States of vigorous opposition to the control of the elites, on behalf of which many thousands of protesters have died.
Unfortunately, a friend with whom I watched Ferguson’s film kept asking me, “Where is the protest? Where are the protesters?” A question to which I have no ready answer.
Faced with conditions that in former times might well have led to revolution, the people appear to have been bought off, or brainwashed, or something, cowed into silence before what confronts all of us.
Thank heaven, also, for Julien Assange and his heroic decision to publish the reality of government behaviour in the modern world.
I am also reminded of Arundhati Roy’s wonderful conclusion that “the only thing worth globalizing in the modern world is protest.” We should get busy on that job….