Absolutely, Play the Blame Game with the 1%

Below a long response (or call it a well-reasoned rant) I made in someone else’s blog. That person, who truly seems to be a thoughtful decent man as well as a successful businessman, was attempting to strike some kind of middle ground regarding Occupation Wall Street and the articulated goals of their consensus. I say “their consensus” because they operate along the line of a pure Athenian democracy, have only temporary facilitators instead of leaders, etc. So, for now, it’s clearly more of a social movement rather than a political movement like the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, and therefore, OWS has no hierarchy to present a truly articulated list of political goals.

Well, this business man wrote, to paraphrase, yes the system is broken and needs to be fixed and people have a right to be angry about that, but that it is not constructive to blame or specific people – in particular, doing such acts as marching in front of certain financial figures homes and condos as the OWS did about two weeks ago – and furthermore, people in the 99% had to accept responsibility for their own financial failures. He didn’t say this specifically but I think the implication was particularly if your home had been foreclosed, then it was your own fault.

While compared to so many who have denigrated and dismissed OWS, his civil tone and conciliatory admission of systemic fault was very welcome and should be applauded, I nonetheless immediately felt angry… I worked through that emotion and produced the following (slightly revised from the original for clarity):

“I disagree. It is absolutely essential to point the finger and actually create accountability and ramifications for their behavior that very, very nearly created a world-wide depression. The system is broken because of the greed, yes greed – no reason to play semantics, of those that benefited from the breaking of the system. Congress didn’t repeal the Glass-Steagall Act (legislation created after the Great Depression that had successfully regulated the banks for approximately 50 years), and other financial regulations for fun. It did so because wealthy contributors wanted them to do so. Then what had been illegal became legal and the floodgates were wide open for what has happened to our economy and much of the world’s.

The more than 1% deserve all of the social and moral approbation that they’re getting. And much more.

(Obviously, it’s not just the financial system that is broken – the Supreme Court’s equating of money and speech for the past 100 years, has logically created a democracy where the person with more money has more speech, and thus is “heard” more easily. Almost all politicians follow the money – nearly all Republicans overtly, and most Democrats in a combination of the overt and subvert – and are therefore in obeisance to the will of a moneyed elite. So, Republicans universally opposed re-regulating the Street, while Democrats put forward regulations that for the most part are more fig leaf than substantive.)

If there are neither financial ramifications (since the tax payers have done and will continue to do the bailing out, and in general, the financial decision makers have NOT lost their jobs or fortunes) nor any legal repercussions (since the laws were changed), a similar financial meltdown is going to happen all over again.

That is one of the great services that the OWS people are doing. Their righteous indignation – as amorphous and without nuance that it sometimes is – is creating an environment politically where it might actually lead to the politicians literally hearing those without money for a change, and actually re-instituting sane regulations on the banking and investment industries.

As for the responsibility of the 99%, certainly some home buyers were foolish in buying something well over their income level, but there was also quite of lot of deceptive practices in the real estate and mortgage industries, and/or understandable ignorance too. Plus, there are those who have gone “underwater” through no fault of their own even though they have been making payments. Or, those who were keeping up on their payments then lost their jobs (thus their homes) because of the domino effect from the worldwide financial meltdown.

In other words, real people suffered and lost everything they owned or everything they had for their retirement in totally unrelated industries because of those bankers and investment companies who profited from the inflated real estate and other investment markets, i.e. from all of the derivatives and credit default swaps and other convoluted, complicated financials instruments that finally collapsed upon themselves, precipitating a financial black hole that then led to bankruptcies and lay-offs and local, state and national government (Iceland!) defaults around the globe.

So, why shouldn’t someone who is losing their house, is being laid off through fault of their own, has lost their retirement savings, and all other losers in this glorified Ponzi scheme NOT blame the ones who both profited from this financial system, AND then were made whole by tax payer money when their financial house of cards collapsed? Yes, even Goldman Sachs could have gone under without a government bailout. So, why shouldn’t the losers say, “I didn’t cause this mess, so why not bail me too?” Or even: “Okay I messed up and made some stupid financial decisions but they did too, so why not me?”

Capitalism obviously runs on greed, but if there isn’t enough people in power to counter that greed with strong restrictions (including a sane tax policy) on that greed, in the long term capitalism will fail all but the very, very few and America will slowly corrode as a world power. It seems to me that Argentina which was of rough equivalence economically to the US at the turn of the 20th Century is a good example of what happens to a country when wealth is hyper concentrated.

You can say that greed is part of human nature, but another defining characteristic of what it means to be human, is cooperation. So, if the roughly 1% don’t acknowledge their culpability and accountability (and they certainly have not) and do things to make amends for the vast damage they have done to so many people not just in this country but the entire world, then somebody else has to create equilibrium. For that reason alone, I see the people of OWS as being great patriots.”

Of course, Fred disagreed with me. I followed up with this (and some more):

“So bringing this back to OWS and the Blame Game and personal responsibility. Blame IS a dangerous game. Throughout history, individuals and groups (usually some minority) have been blamed unfairly and incorrectly, and thus great evil has been perpetuated. BUT in the instance of the most recent worldwide financial meltdown, Wall Street is not a scapegoat but directly responsible. They can’t be prosecuted because they successfully lobbied to have the laws changed; they haven’t lost any power, influence, position or cash (except for Lehman Bros) because the TARP program was no strings attached. So there’s only one thing left, and that is, for a lot of people to say, no Lloyd Blankfein, you are not “doing God’s work”. You and the rest of the arrogant people in the financial industry are part of the problem. Social embarrassment is all that’s left to force these people to cooperate. Actual people, not a faceless “system” have to be held accountable.”

More disagreements. Dan’s comment: “And if you’re relying on “social embarrassment” to make people do the right thing, I have to ask, “Have you met these people?” As long as they’re making pantloads of money, they’re embarrassed all the way to the bank.” (I would say that I’m not relying on it but rather there just isn’t anything better. I am hoping, however, that the politicians get scared.) And Fred’s: “And maybe I am less quick to demonize those Wall Street titans because I actually know several of them and I know that they are mostly not indifferent and not immoral. Often arrogant, yes. But I don’t think that’s a hanging offense.”