WHY ARE WE BANKING ON BANKS TO A PROMOTE ECONOMIC RECOVERY? HBO'S "TOO BIG TO FAIL" SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABOUT BANKSTERS "TOO BIG TO JAIL"
By Danny Schechter, Author of The Crime Of Our Time
This week the financial crisis finally went prime time in the form of a big budget HBO docudrama called "Too Big To Fail."
It was a well-acted docudrama focused on the BIG Men and some women in the banks and in government who tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again up on that wall to prevent a total economic collapse when panic dried up credit and financial institutions faced failure.
Based on the work of a New York Times reporter, it offered a skillfully-made but conventional narrative which, like most TV shows, showcase events but miss their deeper context and background.
We heard all the explanations, save one.
There was greed, ambition, ego and money lust. There were personal rivalries and ideological battles, parochial agendas and narrow self-interest. There was panic on THE Street and in the halls of mighty institutions. In many ways, the program recycled and made an official narrative compelling viewing. In the end, everyone was to blame so no one was to blame.
BUT ... what was missing was any notion of intentionality and premeditation,almost no mention of systemic fraud and CRIME , that one word that sums up what really happened for those millions of Americans who have lost jobs and homes. We never saw victims or felt their pain and bewilderment. We were never shown how a shadow banking system emerged or how the finance industry worked with their counterparts in finance and insurance to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the superrich,
When I was but a precocious lad, my elementary school encouraged students to take out a savings account at the nearby Dime Bank in the Bronx. We were each given a bankbook and taught to put in $.50 a week to show us how to build wealth by being thrifty. It was with a sense of pride that I watched my balance grow.
It may have been peanuts in the scheme of things, but to me, at the time, it was the way to plan for the future.
At the same time, in those year I watched TV shows glamorize the bank robbing antics of a man named Willie Sutton who also staged jail breaks wearing masks and costumes. When he was asked why he robbed banks, he responded famously, "That's where the money is."
And it still is, except in our era, it is the banks that are robbing us.
That's because what's now called the "financial Services sector" has gone from about 30 percent of our economy to over 60 percent. Through a process called financialization, they have transformed how all business is done.
Making money from money soon began to surpass making money from making things. What we were never warned about was the danger of getting too deeply in debt, or how the economy was shifting from production to consumption.
Private equity, credit swaps, derivative deals and collateralized debt obligations soon drove the economy. Markets became captives of high performance trading by powerful computers.
When Wall Street became the defacto capital of the country, the bankers accrued more power than the politicians who they bought up with impunity. Their lobbying power deregulated the economy and decriminalized their activities. They killed many of the reforms enacted during the New Deal designed to protect the public. They built a shadow (and shadowy) banking system beyond the reach of the law.
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