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The Hundred Year Storm

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Somewhere, perhaps it was in the article from the United Kingdom's Telegraph, Tuesday, in which Ed Balls, a member of Prime Minister Brown's government, declared the present financial crisis to be the worst in over 100 years. Perhaps it was this Wednesday's Washington Post editorial which drew no particular attention to its unconscionably bland assertion that Secretary Geithner faces a once-in-a-century crisis. It nevertheless comes as something of a shock to the country that "once-in-a-generation" and "not-since-the-Great Depression" are now worn out understatements of the mess we are in. The meaning carried on the back of these new dimensions is that we have no experience in modern times dealing with what we have now at hand. The Republicans, nevertheless and predictably, are all over Geithner for a nervously cracking voice and lack of details. They are all over President Obama for exhibiting amateurish naivete and insufficient boldness in the face of we know not what. Their catcalls disguise a cold, dark fear, so you can expect to see Republicans sneaking over to the Depends shelves at Walmart late at night. At least Dr. Krugman, in his NYT blog shows signs of understanding the dimensions of the problem facing this new government and hopes (I think wistfully) for a Trojan horse to deliver the necessary assault on a generation of haughty excess and bankrupt theory. Dana Milbank, in the Post gives us some perspective on the newness of the government:
The rollout seemed to cause a high stress level throughout the Treasury Department. Geithner's announcement started late, and audience members were still straggling in as he spoke because of problems at the Secret Service guard booth outside. The guards, using a printout that was five hours old, didn't have the names of many of those who were to be admitted to the event, so dozens of federal officials and reporters cooled their heels outside while the guards worked the phones to get updated information.
When the government cannot get through its own doors, you know it has not been here long enough to be charged with ineptitude! It is clear enough that the current government is not going to be able to save the country of greedy, indolent, complaining, smart-assed wannabe capitalists. What is not so clear is how the country we live in is going to change and how rapidly. There are even Republicans who are mocking Obama's ability to effect change, but they are going to be very surprised soon enough. To my mind Borosage in Huffington Post and OpEdNews nailed it down pretty well with the observation that
...we need to restructure - and downsize - our financial sector. Its baroque excesses - billions in bonuses, golden parachutes, million dollar office renovations, $35,000 "commodes on legs," $50 million private jets, legions of employees - were constructed atop a housing bubble that finally burst. Now the banks and financial houses must be downsized, chastened, and regulated. As President Obama stated, "the party is over." But the administration's plan envisions a restoration, not a restructuring.
Borosage leaps to "restructuring" of the financial sector as if there were sufficient political energy behind that idea. I would have doubted that there is, except for a very interesting bit of cobblestones-and-barricades talk masquerading as dark whimsey from our good friend and bon vivant Mark Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle also this grim Wednesday morning with the message "Eat the Rich", a title he swiped from Aerosmith (their song linked in his essay is worth listening to if you were born after 1935). We in the United States, that is, the non-rich, the taxpayers, the People who are watching the American Dream evaporate like a mirage on a hot road, are reaching a point where the anger and disgust will soon translate to ... well, can we say it? ... a boiling point, a call for radical restructuring of the whole nation. We have given the "gilded" their way twice now, and they have made themselves vastly richer and brought the whole colossus of capitalism to its knees ... again. We need to be thinking of something else. We need to understand that American capitalists are fundamentally greedy, selfish, and untrustworthy people, and therefore, we can no longer trust them with our dreams and aspirations! Is this a call to revolution? In a way, yes! It is the rapid saltationist evolution (as proposed by the late Stephen J. Gould of Harvard) of our polity away from self-destructive habits. Our country will look more deeply into the abyss than anyone of us really wants, and this experience will accelerate the change most of us have been hoping for and the change most of us fear at the same time. It will be a come-uppance and it is going to be very, very painful and disturbing, even if we don't really eat the rich for lunch. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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