As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Not Anger?

Shorter everyone who presumes to speak for everyone: This rabble-rousing is sure making it harder to continue with our legalized theft!

I don't want to completely dismiss the pushback from those who find the public anger over the AIG bonus babies distasteful. Without question, the larger scandal concerns the counter-parties and the use of AIG as a conduit to reward multinational banks, especially because the company made the counter-parties whole instead of forcing them to take a haircut. Joe Nocera makes additional good points. But whines that people are angry about the wrong thing hardly obscures the fact that people ought to be angry, extremely angry, at the hash financial, political and media elites have made of our collective economic well-being.

This anti-anger consensus among our political elites is exactly wrong. The public rage we're finally seeing is long, long overdue, and appears to be the only force with both the ability and will to impose meaningful checks on continued kleptocratic pillaging and deep-seated corruption in virtually every branch of our establishment institutions. The worst possible thing that could happen now is for this collective rage to subside and for the public to return to its long-standing state of blissful ignorance over what the establishment is actually doing.

It makes perfect sense that those who are satisfied with the prevailing order -- because it rewards them in numerous ways -- are desperate to pacify public fury. Thus we find unanimous decrees that public calm (i.e., quiet) be restored. It's a universal dynamic that elites want to keep the masses in a state of silent, disengaged submission, all the better if the masses stay convinced that the elites have their best interests at heart and their welfare is therefore advanced by allowing elites -- the Experts -- to work in peace on our pressing problems, undisrupted and "undistracted" by the need to placate primitive public sentiments.

While that framework is arguably reasonable where the establishment class is competent, honest, and restrained, what we have had -- and have -- is exactly the opposite: a political class and financial elite that is rotted to the core and running amok. We've had far too little public rage given the magnitude of this rot, not an excess of rage. What has been missing more than anything else is this: fear on the part of the political and financial class of the public which they have been systematically defrauding and destroying.

Consider that AIG is currently suing the federal government, which owns the company, for the return of $306 million in tax overpayments. I don't see these same elites shaking their heads soberly at AIG for their "populist anger" at trying to get $300 million from the entity that handed them $185 billion. Oh yeah, and with the real amount of the bonus increasing (now it's $218 million), before long the amount in bonuses and the amount requested from the government in tax overpayments will be equal, I'm willing to bet.

I agree that the fact that populism moved the House to pass the admittedly crude excise tax bill represents a great hope that finally, politicians are more worried about the public perception than their standing among the elites (the Senate remains out of reach, but only for now). People understandably reject a government and an economy owned by elites, and desire a voice in their affairs again.

And that's the point: only this true, intense, and -- yes -- scary public rage can serve as a check on ongoing pilfering by the narrowed monied factions who control our Government for their own interests and who otherwise have no reason to stop. Who else is going to impose those checks? The bought-and-paid-for, incomparably subservient, impotent and inept Congress? The establishment-loyal, vapid political press? An executive branch run by the very people who are most vested in, dependent on, and loyal to the financial system that produced these disasters? Only a healthy fear of the populace -- exactly what has been missing -- can achieve that.

Now rage can lead to bad outcomes, but I struggle to see how it could be functionally worse than the society of the pwned in which we live currently.

Lucian Bebchuk and Dean Baker have more.

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