With AIG and the heated response to it showing the way, this is what I believe they call "a teachable moment". We're paying attention at last to reality rather than spin, seeing in bold relief the underside of the snake's belly, wrapping soiled linen around our gaping, bloody wounds and wondering, "Wha hoppen?"
There's an answer to that question, you know. After the savaging of corporate managers by Mr Fuller that I linked to in this post, a savaging I second whole-heartedly, it seems to me it might be time to let them off the hook a little 'cause believe it or not, it's not all their fault. That may sound counter-intuitive but bear with me. It's important for us to understand how we got here so we know what steps need to be taken if we want to make sure our grandchildren don't find themselves in exactly the same place because we looked the other way. (Assuming, of course, we ever get out of it.)
In defense of the managers I've known (though it escapes me why I should be defending them rather than hanging them from convenient rafters but never mind), it's more the culture of the corporations they work for than individual decisions to be obtuse, self-interested, and materialistic. Many of the ones I've known best would not have chosen that kind of path, I believe, if they hadn't been trained to it from high school on and shown in no uncertain terms that they would not survive 5 mins in the corporate world if they didn't behave in the narrow, expected way.
Capitalism is by its nature, as it has proved yet again, an incredibly selfish and anti-social creed. And if it is anti-social it is ipso facto anti-democratic, a system far more comfortable with fascist dictatorships than messy communitarian rule. So it's not surprising that people enveloped by and trained in that system turn out to be anti-democracy cultists and closet autocrats. There is no govt bureaucracy in the world as loaded with feather-bedders, incompetent cranks, and obstructionist turf-protectors as the average corporate management seminar.
This is not an accident. It is design. Amoral selfishness is a key ingredient of capitalist success. It engenders and then encourages the worst, most avaricious, least responsible and darkest urges of the human heart because those are the urges that work best for it. As I tried to show in "The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing", the last thing in the world a sane people should want is to have businessmen running the govt.
"Why can’t they run the government like a business?” is a refrain we’ve been hearing for almost 40 years. The assumption behind the question is that govt is wasteful and inefficient, full of do-nothing bureaucrats and faceless, paper-pushing functionaries whose only goal in life is to waste taxpayer dollars making mountains out of molehills and sows’ ears from silk purses, and who are so incompetent they couldn’t run a lemonade stand and make a profit.
The companion assumption is, of course, that business is govt’s antithesis: a mean, lean machine full of purposeful, competent managers who make every penny count, produce 2.5 times their weight in productivity, and and waste nothing. The thinking (such as it is) comes from the Free Market Fantasy Handbook, which claims that competition (which govt doesn’t have any of) is the lifeblood of efficiency and success, a ruthless taskmaster whose ultimate punishment for wimps and wastoids is bankruptcy and their consequent elimination from the corporate gene-pool.
Nowhere in these assumptions do you run up against the rather obvious notion that the goals of these two institutions are apposite: business exists to make money, and the how or why of it is irrelevant; govt exists to serve and protect its citizens, and the how and why are critical to judging its success: who exactly are they serving, and how? who are they protecting, and how? “Profit” never enters into the equation because it’s not supposed to make one at the expense of its citizens.
To take the basics of that argument one step further, in a sane world it would be best if corporate managers weren't allowed to run corporations. Monks might work. Or lion tamers.
Because it is a simple fact (and we are seeing it right now) that corporate capitalism run amok is more like a wild beast than anything human. I used to call capitalism Molochian until I realized no one knew what it meant. What is Moloch?
Moloch was a god worshipped in the ancient Middle East and in northern Africa. He demanded the blood-sacrifice of children. Infants were taken to a huge brazen image of the god whose mouth gaped open to reveal the fires of Topeth. The babies were tossed inside while priests of Moloch clanged cymbals to drown out the screams of immolating humanity. Sometimes there would be long lines as mothers would wait their turn to do homage to the ghastly deity.
If you need an image to represent the way Wall Street has been gobbling up everything in its path, including itself, this should do nicely. But you have to take the description of this writer with a grain of salt. He apparently doesn't know it but Moloch only began with the children. When the children were gone, he ordered the priests to feed him other adults, and he made it clear that when he eventually ate all the adults he would then expect the priests to sacrifice themselves. Moloch would go on eating, it was said, until he had consumed the whole world, at which point he would begin consuming...himself.
That is capitalism, kids. That is why AIG wants to pay the bonuses even though not a single exec manager has earned one. They have to go on accumulating even if that accumulation will require their destruction next.
Bush and his corporate cronies are actually Molochite devotees, servants to the belief that Greed is the highest emotion, and the acquisition of ‘things’ is the only measure of achievement. Moloch recognizes no human values, praises no human qualities, shows pity for no one and remorse for nothing. He is a single, simple force–he Takes. He is that in all of us that urges the virtues of unchecked selfishness whenever our generosity would have a price that would be hard to pay. He’s the one who looks in the Sharper Image catalog, scopes out the mansions on the other side of town, dreams of expensive linens and designer clothes and cars that cost more than the house you live in. He’s the one that whispers to you in the night that you deserve those things, you have a right to them, and that if you don’t have them you’re a failure.
I knew we were in a war. Now I’ve identified the enemy. The enemy isn’t Bush or Cheney or Ashcroft or Chao or Norquist or DeLay. The enemy is the shadowy figure behind and above all of them, the cold stone of a dead idol in which we’ve invested massive power because messy, chaotic, undisciplined Life scares us but doesn’t disturb the stone.
It's the system, campers, and at some point we're going to be forced to face the fact that the whole damn thing has to be removed, root and branch. IOW, like it or not we are going to have to start acting like grown-ups.
I know, I know, but it's not as painful as you think. Really. You'll be glad you did. Because if you don't, this is what America is going to look like in 20 years (or less):