Sunday, July 19, 2009

Costs of the Current Stuckness

The New York Times notes with surprise the end of the time "when a company reporting a few billion in earnings could count its money while basking in polite, reverent applause." It announces "a widespread sense that winners in this economy are produced by a game that’s rigged."

If these companies can return to the festivities so quickly, were they really having the near-death experience they and the government claimed? And if taxpayers risked their money when they backstopped Wall Street’s misadventures, why aren’t they sharing in the upside now that the party has started again?

The best explanation of where GS got its new money is Matt Taibbi's spectacularly clear explication on Democracy Now, a summary of his "Inside the Great American Bubble Machine." My Capitalist Pals aren't happy either. One discovered a new kinship with Central Los Angeles Democrat Maxine Waters in agreeing that Collatoralized Debt Obligations should be outlawed (for five years). He goes on to note that
U.S. taxpayers are going to be called on to subsidize the very banks that got us into this mess – just so these institutions can continue to carry on as if it was still 2007 – then another expensive and damaging financial crash is almost certainly in the making.
There's also a good critique in this piece of CDOs' very existence. The basic point is that CDO holders have a structural interest in sinking companies and gaming markets. In other words, they push against constructive economic activity, and add nothing to it. It's amazing that while the US's industrial capacity is melting away, and crucial technologies like solar photovoltaics are starved for capital, the banks can carry on producing little more than massive economic inequality. In the case of Goldman's bonuses, they come to $700,000 per employee, or 14 times the average US household income.

Jon Stewart offered his less technical critique of Goldman Sachs, from which the graphic is taken. The point is simple: "I guess the bailouts are working . . for Goldman Sachs!"

How do we know rich bankers mean a worse society? There are lots of studies of inequality and how and why it has gotten worse over the past twenty years of financialization. But the evidence I've been experiencing is the meltdown of higher education in California. Here's one link, again made by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now:
While Goldman Sachs is making billions, the state of public higher education in California is in a state of crisis. The University of California Board of Regents is preparing to meet this week to discuss plans to implement widespread budget cuts after the state cut about 20 percent of its support for the university system, amounting to a $813 million deficit. On Friday, University of California President Mark Yudof proposed system-wide employee furloughs for most faculty and staff. Under the plan, workers would be forced to take as many as twenty-six unpaid days off or the equivalent of a ten percent salary reduction. Yudof has also proposed deferred hiring and cuts in academic programs. University of California, Davis, has already shut down its liver transplant program, and UC Santa Cruz has axed some science and music classes.
In the US we assume we could never turn into Russia, and that California will never be Mississippi or Brazil. But in fact our educational stats are Mississippian, or bond rating is worse than Mississippi, and our governments are still run by people who think markets make better decisions than governments except in some special cases. More to the point, Russia's social fabric was destroyed by deliberate shock therapy, and California's governer is administering the same shock treatment to California today, while Goldman Sachs and banking policy in general floats self-contentedly above the mess they have helped to make.

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