Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Suicide is Painless

Stephen Cox, editor of Liberty, notes, in the August issue, that President Obama acts “as if the BP executives didn't care whether they ruined their own company”. And he observes, correctly, that “people in business care whether they lose a fortune or not”. And this is true, as long as you deem that fortune to be the personal fortune of the businessmen, and not the firms they work for. Because it has gotten to the point where executives, indeed, don't care whether they ruin their own companies; we have seen evidence of this for years, extending way back before the current economic crisis. And one of the main reasons for this – aside from nearly universal moral degeneracy on the part of captains of industry – is that “big business” is no longer a matter of ownership, but of “management”. I.e., the old, so-called “robber baron” model featured men who were founders, owners, and executives rolled into one. Hence, they had not only a serious financial interest in the fortunes of the firm but a great amount of pride in its history, performance, and prospects. No one named Smith who founded, owns, and operates a company called Smith & Co. is going to lightly see it go down the drain due to mismanagement, competition, or government harassment. But how many of the old, venerable firms these days are still run by the founders – or the descendants thereof? Most of them are run by mercenaries, pirates, and looters -- warlords who have only one thing in mind – squeeze the most you can out of the firm and its stockholders, then bail. And the amazing thing is, this behavior is not only no longer shocking or even surprising; it's expected. No one expects a business executive to have any loyalty to the firm or anything else but his own portfolio – and you'll notice than even when stockholders suffer, executive portfolios not only remain intact but continue to grow. That's the way it's been set up – and the amazing thing is that stockholders seldom, if ever, object... and stockbrokers continue to recommend the stock in that firm, and mutual funds continue to include it in their own portfolios. In other words, rampant corruption – more of the moral than the legal sort – is expected and rewarded, and the system that reinforces it is further strengthened every time an executive ruins a company and gets away with it.

So in that sense, Obama is right about the BP executives. They will reap their rewards no matter what happens to BP – or the Gulf of Mexico, or the people who depend on it for a living. The golden parachutes have already been deployed and the guilty parties are on a slow, pleasant glide to their next position, ready to do the same thing all over again. And BP is just a type of what has happened in this country for decades now, and especially in the aftermath of the “meltdown”. Do you see any of the guilty parties in jail? Or even mildly inconvenienced? No – like those politicians whom we can never seem to get rid of... like the proverbial bad pennies... they always reappear in a new position of power, ready to reprise their successful acts of pillage and rapine. And this, I submit, is one of many measures of the overall decadence of our society; we are much better at rewarding, and celebrating, villains than heroes. In politics, for example, who had held onto superstar status ever since his administration came to a blessed close? Bill Clinton! He probably has more groupies now than he did when he was in the White House. Even in professional sports, where ethical standards are way higher than in politics, there is still a certain amount of reverence and respect for the “bad boys”. We have always had a grudging sort of respect for guys who “got away with it” -- up to and including murder. I guess this is an example of American individualism in a degenerate, distorted form; the losers and non-achievers have to identify with someone, and if there are no heroes available, they'll identify with criminals. It's not unlike the old saying, “There's no such thing as bad publicity.” There is a certain zest -- a certain glamor -- connected with being an outlaw, a sociopath, a psychopath. Every nerdy accountant secretly wants to join a biker gang. Even guys in jail can remain celebrities -- the feeling being, it might have been worth it, considering how "large" the guy lived until he got caught.

Cox goes on to contend that President Obama alleged “that BP and the banks and Wall Street and the big corporations – all of them – want to enrich themselves, by what? By fatally damaging themselves.” And again, we can solve this apparent contradiction by identifying the first “themselves” with the executives, and the second with the companies. And it does sound extreme to say that, if a business executive sees that the shortest path to his own personal enrichment is to loot and bankrupt the company he is charged with managing, he will do so – except that we've seen conclusive evidence of this time and time again. But, in a sense, this mindset is not confined to business – it's also standard procedure in government. It's well known that the best way to get a budget increase is to fail; this has become the main strategy for the public schools, for example. So one can hardly be surprised when people in many economic sectors come to see failure as the surest road to success – their own, that is. And the beauty of becoming a beneficiary of the Culture of Failure is that one never has to make an accounting of one's actions, or pay back any of one's gains... because it all ultimately comes from the hapless taxpayers, who have precisely zero power to change the system. So the government rewards its own failures, and those of big business... and the citizens pay the bill. It's probably the neatest, most air-tight system ever devised. But it does depend, let's admit, on the “fear factor” -- the process of intimidating people to the extent that no one ever wants to speak up, or protest, or rock the boat. And this is not to say that a few people don't... but the government's media servants quickly declare them beyond the pale, and “nut cases”, "wing nuts", “haters”, “racists/sexists/homophobes”... you know, the usual rap sheet on the ordinary citizen. (Look at how the "tea partiers" have been portrayed as being little better than mother-rapers and father-killers.)

Then on another level, the vast majority of these “failed” firms nonetheless stay in business! Not only are they considered “too big to fail” (because they were designed that way), they actually wind up, in many cases, prospering – because their balance sheets now include a vast infusion of wealth from the citizenry (AKA "bailouts"). So failure is turned into success in short order. And firms that succeed legitimately – in the marketplace, with free and open competition, and subject to supply and demand... well, they are tolerated by the government in most cases, but they certainly do not merit any special consideration, any more than a government agency would if it were successful... although I have yet to see or hear of an example of the latter. So our entire economic system has been turned on its head, basically – failure is the new success, and real success is... held in suspicion, if not downright contempt. For who gets taxed, in many cases out of business? Small and medium sized firms that obey the rules, provide goods and services that people really want, and don't go begging to government every other week. And who gets subsidized? Places that, on the free market, would have (and should have) gone out of business years or decades ago. So we see that, in the long run, the economy is fated to be made up solely of failures (by traditional criteria) – which means that it will come more and more to resemble the government, which is, almost by definition, made up solely of failed programs and agencies. And as true success is more and more punished and persecuted, the ambitious and ethical (and yes, one can be both) people will, literally, take their business elsewhere – as they have already begun to do. (“Galt's Gulch” is more likely to be in Costa Rica than in the mountains of Colorado.)

And I also submit that this trend is unstoppable – not only because there is a total collusion between government and business, but because no one with any power wants to stop it. In fact, those in power are profiting handsomely from the situation. The liberals are pleased as punch to see business become a vassal of the state – although the opposite is more likely. Conservatives are in total disarray because they want to be on the side of “free enterprise”, but most of the practitioners thereof (or so it is claimed) really want nothing less. The paleocons would like to see a return to the day when there was a wall of separation between business and state... but for that, you'd have to go back to at least the pre-Civil War era. And the libertarians would like to see unfettered business but severely fettered government – which is a fine idea, except that the two, seemingly, cannot coexist – at least not in this society at this time. Powerful business interests will naturally tend to rise up and take over the government, as they have – simply because it's, well, good business. It would not seriously matter what form of government we had – if it was seen as “weak” it would sooner or later fall to the power of business and financial interests. And this is because they don't see the value in any sort of separation; in fact, they see it as a threat to their well-being and prosperity. After all, look at what happened to large firms in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution – they were taken over by the workers and the commissars. Surely we can't have that! And the best way to prevent it is to not only dominate the government but to also dominate the media and as much of the political landscape as possible. Hence you have – shazam! -- the political and economic landscape of today. No matter what Obama says or thinks, the government, and his administration, are securely in the hands of the financial powers, and they are going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

And there is another angle to all of this that we must keep in mind, which is that the U.S. is not “an island, entire of itself”. When you move up the ladder of the financial powers in question, you eventually get to the point where they are no longer confined to the U.S. In fact, you get to the point where they are no longer in the U.S. at all. So Obama is not only under the thumb of the home-grown financial powers, he's also, or mainly, under the thumb of the international financial power, AKA the “globalists”. And this is just fine with them... but it should worry the American citizenry even more than the spectre of domination by old-time robber-baron types. (The Rockefellers were Americans, at least!) But now we have a cabal that includes not only the upper strata in this country, but the same (or even more) upper strata in Europe, and the Near East, and, for all I know, Russia and China. So the Culture of Failure now extends even unto, for example, the American economy as a whole... the dollar... the American (i.e. Constitutional) political system, and so on. And does the international financial power consider the U.S. “too big to fail”? Well, we're certainly not too big to be scared shitless by a – by-and-large bogus -- “financial crisis”... and we're not too big to have a “Great Recession”. The question that remains, however, is – are we too big to be allowed to simply collapse, and get plowed under? Would the liquidation of the American economy benefit the Regime? Because if it would, it will happen -- sooner or later. Would it, in other words, benefit the global financial power more than if we remained more or less intact (if badly bruised)? I'm afraid that the only way we're going to get a definitive answer to this one is to wait and see. If we fail, it means we were allowed to fail (and, most likely, intended to fail); if we remain in a kind of semi-monde of recession, unemployment, high taxation, expanding government, eroding liberties, etc., it means that this is considered (for the time being at least) to be of most benefit to the Regime. But it will certainly have nothing to do with the true interests of the American people.

No comments: