1. ‘SUPPOSE YOU GO TO WASHINGTON…’
Have the poor suckers of this world ever lived in an age that offered such entertainment? Costly, to be sure, and they are the ones who are going to pay for it, but at least they are getting to watch some wonderful burlesque–first the pirates of a fraudulent system of communism forced to scuttle their own ship, and then the pirates of a fraudulent system of capitalism beginning to do the same.
So long as their focus was on Eastern Europe, our press and politicians couldn’t talk enough about “the triumph of capitalism and democracy.” But now that they begin reluctantly to concentrate on the piracy at home, they are–perhaps because so many of them are part of that piratical crew–understandably reluctant to admit the obvious: that our system is just as bogus and corrupt and irrelevant and defeated in its own way, offering neither the risks of true capitalism nor the safeguards of true democracy. Our system is a hoax.
If anyone still had faith in the system, the savings and loan adventure surely must have brought him to his senses and to his knees. The gambling debt of $500 billion ($150 billion plus interest and other incidentals)–or will it be, as some economists predict, a trillion four?–that the S&L industry left with the taxpayers has prompted even that deadpan Tory, George Will, to remark in wonderment, “We seem to have a capitalism here in which profits are private and we socialize the losses. Why are we, in effect–if you’re big enough, if you’re a huge bank or a savings and loan–why, in effect, are we guaranteeing everything? … What I’m asking is isn’t there a way to reform the system so that the taxpayers don’t get stuck with what happens when you have deregulation and risk taking that goes wrong?”
The answer to his question is: No, there is no way to reform the present system, because the system is owned and controlled by those who are ruining it. Voters, ordinary taxpayers, have nothing to say about it.
Martin Mayer, a conservative economic historian, has seen his world crumble and become meaningless. The capitalism he set his watch by has stopped ticking. He finds the thrift mess almost unbelievable: “Players entered the game through a government charter and continued to play, however severe their losses, in violation of all capitalist principle–courtesy of a government that continued to insure their borrowings. This was not an accident: it was public policy.”
When he talks about “players,” he makes it sound like customers at a casino. And that in fact is what it has become. Capitalism has become the Big Casino, with players guaranteed against loss, because in effect they have bought the house managers. That is public policy.
Mayer predicts plaintively that “future sociologists…will study the irruption of criminality into what had been conservative, even beneficent, organizations….They will seek to learn why the fiduciary ties that had set the unspoken, self-dignifying rules of a competitive society had been so grievously weakened in the late years of the twentieth century.”
But in fact, this has never been a competitive society, neither in the mythical “capitalist” commercial world nor in the even more mythical “democratic” world of politics. Big-big uncontrolled money has ruled both through special privileges, and the S&L disaster simply illustrates again what Mayer calls “the corruption that must ultimately infect any government where the costs of running for office are greater than those that can or will be borne by the relatively small community of the public-spirited.”