Sunday, September 21, 2008

Will the free-market fanatics please shut up?

The Corporate Financiers Are Wrong - Salon

LATE ADDITION: Free Market Ideology Is Far From Finished - The Guardian
During boom times, it's profitable to preach laissez faire, because an absentee government allows speculative bubbles to inflate. When those bubbles burst, the ideology becomes a hindrance, and it goes dormant while big government rides to the rescue. But rest assured: the ideology will come roaring back when the bailouts are done. The massive debts the public is accumulating to bail out the speculators will then become part of a global budget crisis that will be the rationalisation for deep cuts to social programmes, and for a renewed push to privatise what is left of the public sector. We will also be told that our hopes for a green future are, sadly, too costly.

What we don't know is how the public will respond. Consider that in North America, everybody under the age of 40 grew up being told that the government can't intervene to improve our lives, that government is the problem not the solution, that laissez faire was the only option. Now, we are suddenly seeing an extremely activist, intensely interventionist government, seemingly willing to do whatever it takes to save investors from themselves.

This spectacle necessarily raises the question: if the state can intervene to save corporations that took reckless risks in the housing markets, why can't it intervene to prevent millions of Americans from imminent foreclosure? By the same token, if $85bn can be made instantly available to buy the insurance giant AIG, why is single-payer health care – which would protect Americans from the predatory practices of health-care insurance companies – seemingly such an unattainable dream?

All good questions. And Klein's right, of course. The free-market fundies will never give up, no matter how great a catastrophe they create. They are the Energizer bunnies of sociopathy. There's still more money to be stolen, after all!

Meanwhile, once the smoke has cleared, a learning-impaired public will be all too willing to let it happen again. Perhaps one useful new branch for a reinvigorated government would be a department of institutional memory. Then, the next time Americans start falling prey to these self-serving robber barons and their attractive propagandists, there will someone standing by to say, "Cue the 9/08 tape, Charlie. Okay now, people, remember this. This is what they do."

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