Those who are defending Timothy Geithner from the tidal wave of criticism over his handling of the financial rescue might have a point or two. The guy didn’t single handedly cause the pretty shell of the banking and insurance industries to crumble like a hollow Easter bunny. And he is doing what his expensive education and his received morality have told him to do. I’m sure, by the dim lights of economic orthodoxy, he has been a model of rectitude. But, if I might kill off a tragic metaphor, the flash that catches Geithner in full panic are the headlights of reality caught up with him. It’s going to crash. If he’s incapable of moving to safety makes no difference, the consequences of his ideology are here and how. It’s not only the prestige of his position, won by adherence to the principles of market orthodoxy, that is about to splat, it’s the entire phony world resting on the underpinning of un-illegalized theft and swindle.
Anyone who is relishing the just deserts that time is about to serve is crazy. The Great Depression wasn’t the comeuppance of the wealthy thieves and the high priesthood of market capitalism, it was a long period of misery and death that culminated in the unprecedented blood letting of WWII. It was only by luck that we escaped the worst of what Europe and Asia suffered. By and large, the plutocrats who had brought us the Depression weren’t the ones who lost their lives. If anyone needs a refresher in that fact of life, just watch what happens to any attempt to raise the taxes of the rich to pay for TARP and the rest of the bailout.
Geithner, Summers, etc. should be informed, before they make any more stupid decisions benefitting the well spoken and perfumed crooks they are used to dealing with, that their position is dependent on that most vulgar of realities, politics. Politics, the necessity of consulting the great unwashed, the hoi polloi, We The People. Unlike the mandarins of the Fed, their position isn’t cushioned from the will of The People.
The People’s freshest experience of contracts is that they are legalized instruments to cheat them and rob them. We are not in the mood to hear Larry Summers’ pious citation of their sanctity. We are losing patience with that most isolated branch of the government, the judges, acting as a protective levee between the oligarchic con men and us. The constitution, we are told, guarantees the rights of those contracts. Well, there is no contract contained in the constitution more basic than that of representative government, of the rights of We The People to have laws that protect us from exactly the kinds of crooks that have destroyed the economy by stealing everything in sight. Everything which they, the money managers, have so conspicuously not produced with their hands and toil. We might joke that the law is an ass, but when it’s an instrument of robbing us it earns more than our contempt.
The AIG bonuses, the redecoration of the Citibank offices and, no doubt, multiple outrages yet to be disclosed will prove to be too much to be sustained. If the clunky, constitutional framework, set up as a cushion against too much democracy, won’t rectify the situation, it will, eventually, be destroyed.
I don’t look forward to the consequences of that, I don’t want to gamble on us having better luck setting up something better. Most revolutionary change results at best in something as bad as it replaced or something worse*.
We’re in the habit of thinking that the American constitution is the bedrock we can rely on being there but its provisions aren’t laws of nature, they are political instruments. POLITICAL instruments. None of it, including the guarantees of the enforceability of contracts, is not, ultimately, dependent on at least the acquiescence of The People. The constitution itself is a contract, one superior to any made under its authority. That is the real contract, the contract that the government of the United States is valid only so long as it is of, by and for The People. And that contract has come to be in a state of continual breach by the governing class and most clearly by the economic elite. Now, that breach of contract is more vulnerable to action than at other times.
Decisions made in the federal government have consequences that don’t become obvious for a long time. I think just that kind of thing happened in 2000. The wall of sanctity around the constitution was breached by the five Supreme Court members who issued the decision in Bush v. Gore, after that there is no solid wall. The vote was the action that made any decision made by any politician or bureaucrat or, yes, even Supreme Court Justice legitimate. Unless the vote of The People is not secure, if we don’t have that stake in the constitution. If the constitution doesn’t guarantee that the government is of, by and for The People none of its articles carries the weight of moral authority. That the government that results acts against our interest is only evidence of the truth of the theory of democracy. Government not of The People, will inevitably become the enemy of The People.
The outrage of The People over the insulting bonuses given to thieves, the bill for the luxurious accommodations and entertainments of bankers and other crooks are just the most recent in a long string of proofs that the government doesn’t work in our interest. The clergy of capital, experts in the mythology and theology of market economics, living in the world created by and for those very crooks, might not notice but the world is changed.
The confluence of disasters that led to his election have given President Barack Obama the chance to remake the contract between The People and the government under that constitution. I don’t think he realizes yet how basic the change will have to be. If he does not change things fast and in ways that his financial experts won’t like he will lose that chance. It’s our job to pressure our president, the man we have chosen, to make that change. His success will depend on his ability to change the course that his economic team has chosen. I still think he will do that but it must be done soon.
* Successful revolutionaries know better than anyone else that it’s entirely possible to overturn established authorities. It’s how they come to power. The resulting rulers know better than most their own vulnerability to toppling and the results are seldom democratic. Most don’t take that way and the results are even more blood shed and corruption.