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Illegitimati Non Carborundum: a quick side-note to my ongoing series of posts on Goldman Sachs & their ilk

April 28, 2010

As we’re all treated to yet another public flogging of miscreants – reminiscent of the circuses surrounding Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Bros, ad nauseum – it’s important to bear in mind the important distinction between punishing people who broke existing laws and the need to reinstate a modicum of sanity into the system forms the underpinning of our entire economy (and a good chunk of the rest of the world’s as well).

My personal “I can’t believe this shit” moment came while listening to one Goldman exec’s lawyered-up evasions of the direct question  “Does Goldman Sachs consider it its duty to be to act in its clients’ best interest?” His answer was some version of “we love our clients and think we’re very helpful to them”, which is of course code for “We try not to fuck them over so much that they really notice it…or at least notice it too too often.”

As much as such an answer makes any thinking person want to rearrange that particular highly-paid stooge’s face, it’s important to remember (take three deep breaths…struggle mightily to unclench fists…) that there will always be creative, resourceful dickheads who can find ways to rape and pillage while hiding behind the fig-leaf of “free-market commerce”. They’re disgusting examples of humanity, and you’d really like to see them spend the rest of their lives picking trash for their sustenance.  But they’re also a given. One can no more prevent such people from infecting our system than one can prevent bullies from seeking badges or sleazeballs from exploiting their own downtrodden communities by selling gangsta rap. Scumbags happen.

What’s important is to recognize that some people who’ve acquired things that we instinctually admire – things like Harvard MBAs, big houses and flashy lifestyles – are just as predatory and dangerous as the more obvious sorts of criminals. More dangerous, actually, because the operate on a much bigger scale and they have the resources to find ways to exploit shades of nuance in regulatory language to create shields for their actions.

It’s equally to explode one major lie that we’ve been raised on as an article of capitalist faith, which is this: there is no such thing as a free market. None whatsoever. Every marketplace a creature of carefully-engineered structures, from the places where we buy our food & clothes to the exotic world of synthetic derivatives. The Golden Boys can exist only  because much better men than they are created such “un-free” institutions as property rights, law & order (without which someone would simply take these guys out when they crossed the line), stock exchanges, intellectual property protection (just about every tool these guys used to rape the system is available because someone could patent the technology. What could be more “un-free” than having the government prevent others from copying your creation before you can recoup your investment?), schools (so they’d have some way of keeping their brats busy while they violated the oaths they took when they got their securities licenses), food & drug purity laws (so their delicate little tummies wouldn’t be upset by their power lunches), and so on. You get the point.

It’s a lie that regulation interferes with markets. Regulation creates markets. It does so by offloading the work of watching our collective asses to people who are trained in that particular art and equipped to create order.  Would you want to have to resort to an unregulated market when you appendix burst? (classic economic theory suggests that anybody who knew how to save your life could, at that particular moment, demand all of your property – even, perhaps, your labor for the rest of your life – as the proper “marketplace value” for not letting you die). How about not being able to rely on licensing for the guy who installs the pipe that brings gas to your stove? Builds your car?

None of us would want to live in a world of “free markets” any more than we’d want to live in the one we see in movies like ‘Mad Max’.

So let’s not be snowed. The question isn’t whether The Golden Boys broke laws. Chances are pretty good their lawyers will find just enough lubricant to let them slip between those particular bars. The question is just what, exactly, do we need to do to protect ourselves from thieves. Pure and simple. There’s no legitimate debate here – just a bunch of people trying to use fear, ideology and bald lies to preserve their well-honed methods of stealing.

Nobody built this country – or has ever died for it – so that Ivy-trained assholes could feast on its lifeblood. We may have gotten fat, dumb & happy as a result of our success, but if we don’t want to end up on the ashcan of history faster than any empire that’s come before us we’re going to need to mind the store. Outlawing behavior such as this would be a great step in the right direction.

And don’t even get me started on the Republican assholes in The Senate who are playing games with this issue in pursuit of some deranged political calculus.

I need to stop now, before my head explodes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 1, 2010 12:32 pm


    Finally I have the time to amuse myself with your rants. I particularly liked this one. At its core it is exactly what I have been trying to tell anyone who will listen. Regrettably most locals assume this is purely national political debate and don’t even want to think about what Massachusetts can do to stop institutionalized stealing from taking place — so it was difficult to force this discussion into the political conversation in a state senate race. This is doubly frustrating when, first of all, deregulation and the broad scale stealing it enabled are really at the heart of what brought down the entire economy — including ours here in Massachusetts, and there are actually things we can do right here in our own state to regulate (not the least of which is to wrestle Barney Frank to the floor and make him stop taking money from banks). Secondly, I had to gag a little when I lrecently found a piece of Martha Coakley’s US Senate campaign literature on the floor of the back seat of my car, in which she promotes her successes as Attorney General at tangling with Wall Street and getting Massachusetts back “millions”. I’d like to send her my most recent statements from Citibank and Chase and ask her to pay the finance charges. I did send a letter to the AG’s office some months ago to notify them that, despite my repeated requests by phone and in writing, Citibank utterly refused to stop increasing my rates and reducing my available credit. I’ve never missed a payment. I got a reply letter from a lawyer in the AG’s office telling me that they don’t handle those kind of complaints, and that unless the AG’s office is able to identify wrongdoing on a broad scale which affects large numbers of consumers, they don’t get involved, and the only recourse is class action. I guess I’m one of the handful of people in this state getting robbed by banks and credit card companies. From what I can tell, when it comes to taking this on, even the most progressive Democrats seem to be a bunch of pussies.

    I find it remarkable, perhaps predictable, that the Madoff thing got so much attention, obscuring the far more criminal unchecked activity in the secondary mortgage market. And now it is the height of irony, that it’s become the Obama Administration’s problem that staffers at the greatly weakened, if impotent and underfunded SEC have been sitting around watching Internet porn. I hope that story is our way of making people realize that the SEC actually has to have power and an agenda to protect our financial markets if we want the staff doing anything meaningful. That agenda comes from the top down, and the power, or lack thereof, comes from legislation which we badly need to reverse the course we have been on for as long as the financial sector in this country has owned Congress and the White House.

    Thanks for your support during my race and keep ranting. Alby

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