It is a strange thing to hear a Republican candidate attribute problems in our economic system to “greed, excess and corruption.” But I suppose we should get used to strange things between now and November.
The problem with John McCain’s new feisty populist talking point is that it’s aimed entirely in the wrong direction. It suggests that Wall Street’s implosion is the result of some moral fault in the individuals who run our financial institutions. They are, doubtless, no angels; but what we’re watching this week is the result of a systemic failure — a failure of government, and not just individuals.
The thing is, the financial marketplace that is at the heart of this week’s meltdown runs on greed. Greed is the whole point. It’s supposed to be that way: you got money, you seek a higher return on investment. Isn’t that, like, capitalism? Take the greed out of Wall Street and what do you have left?
As for corruption: Were there bribes on Wall Street? If so, let’s put somebody in jail. But McCain’s charge is the first suggestion I’m aware of that the collapse of so many financial institutions is the result of outright wrongdoing rather than incompetence and colossally imprudent risktaking.
I’m a liberal Democrat; I know from complaints about corporate greed. But really, McCain’s charges are head-scratchers. Because most of us expect Wall Street bankers to be greedy. Comes with the territory. And when we put money in one of their investment accounts, we usually expect them to get us the best return, too.
The problem is, we expect that investment to take place in an environment where there’s a reasonable guarantee of good information and fair dealing. We expect the brokers and bankers to have a good grasp on the nature of their financial instruments, and to give us good advice on the risks we’re taking when we choose one over the other. What’s evident in the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the other continuing shockwaves from the subprime mortgage mess is that, for a long time, the system suffered from a shortage of information and transparency and an excess of risky, blind betting.
We had a decade-long experiment in putting our economy’s assets largely in the hands of entirely unregulated institutions and managers. (Phil Gramm, who was one of McCain’s chief financial advisers until his impolitic comments about our “nation of whiners,” was one of the people who shot the starter pistol for this decade of excess when he served as chairman of the Senate Banking committee.) Now the experiment has proven a disastrous, costly failure. There’s no doubt that we will return to a more cautious, fairer, better-regulated system; we have no choice in that. The only real choice we have is who to trust to execute that re-regulation.
One party has always stood for kicking away safeguards and regulations in the name of the free market driven by — what? — oh, right, greed. The other has a long tradition of believing that responsible government oversight can keep markets fair and open. McCain and his party have a long record of opposition to the very sort of regulation that might have helped avoid, or minimize, the collapse of our financial institutions. The candidate’s eleventh-hour spasm of “eat the rich” rhetoric — however entertaining, in its topsy-turvy-world way — is far too insincere to occlude that record.
- December 12, 2008 @ 10:43:11 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- September 16, 2008 @ 16:14:20 by Scott Rosenberg
Hmmm… is there necessarily hypocrisy here?
SR: “Because most of us expect Wall Street bankers to be greedy. Comes with the territory. And when we put money in one of their investment accounts, we usually expect them to get us the best return, too.
The problem is, we expect that investment to take place in an environment where there’s a reasonable guarantee of good information and fair dealing….
One party has always stood for kicking away safeguards and regulations in the name of the free market driven by — what? — oh, right, greed.”
Greed is selfishness. But is “self-interest” necessarily selfishness, necessarily greed. Hardly. It is possible that McCain is being a hypocrite, but a person may agree with what he says about greed (“What’s evident in the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the other continuing shockwaves from the subprime mortgage mess is that, for a long time, the system suffered from a shortage of information and transparency and an excess of risky, blind betting” – oh, and greed), believe that being a Republican is important, and invest *responsibly* (which also *helps* those companies) – with an eye towards how companies treat their employees and the communities in which they are situated – in order to take care of their familiy (“self-interest” = trying to make enough to live frugally, not excessively, and to leave an inheritance for one’s children, as a resonsible parent should), whom they love, so that they in turn, can be of service to their neighbors, helping them to do likewise. Good, independent, strong families *who also care about their neighbors* are one of the essential ingredients – nay, the main ingredient – of what makes a democratic form of government even possible (expect to hear more of this kind of formulation – in parables and such, from Republican-populist guys like Mike Huckabee in the future).
If you don’t think an individual person can do all this, but must necessarily be greedy in a greedy system, I pity you. And you’re being hypocritical (which I say in a nice way, because I think hypocrite is just another word for human being).
The “system” is made up of individuals, and at this point, I think that it is at least possible for a person can be a non-greedy individual while using the system.
SR: “And when we put money in one of their investment accounts, we usually expect them to get us the best return, too.”
Well than don’t.
“far too insecure” is rather mush-mouthed.
just call it “hypocrisy” and be done with it…
It’s strange indeed… Republicans are squarely responsible for getting us into this mess. I’m currently reading Thomas Frank’s new book, which is a masterful expose of the fruits of deregulation and other conservative ideologies. Blaming this on greedy individuals (yet another “few bad apples”) is just more spin or denial.
Not saying this is exactly what McCain believes, but I think this perspective can shed some more light on the issue:
Very good point about “greed” and “corruption” on Wall Street.