Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wall Street Off-World

A piece by one of my Capitalist Pals denounces High Frequency Trading as a form of insider trading, and calls for the government to "tax the hell out of it."  In addition to offering the pleasure of seeing a former investment banker going well beyond the Tobin Tax into HFT profit confiscation, this short piece offers a nice example of the total disconnect between Wall Street activities and those available to the rest of us.  20-30x leverage on funds borrowed at the fed window belongs to a small group of institutions. The huge money in U.S. society is being made by people who, institutionally speaking, have absolutely nothing to do with the overall economy - with the working world of everyone else. Marx's capitalists took a disproportionate share of the value created by labor in the industrial enterprises in which they invested.  The most lucrative financial transactions that our author describes are not actually capitalist anymore, but constitute a kind of bizarre toll or rent or tax on activities in which none of the rest of us even engage.

The equally bizarre and unpleasant wage effects are chronicled in David Cay Johnston's "Scary New Wage Data."  Employment is down ("The number of Americans with any wages in 2009 fell by more than 4.5 million compared with the previous year"), median wages are down 0.6%, and yet the people who earned more than $50 million per year saw their average wage increase "from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009."   "These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers."

The growth of inequality is neofeudal,  and the psychological aberrations required to claim that people "earn" this kind of money belong to the shadow philosophies of authoritarian eras.

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