By Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can reach him at stoller (at) gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.
If you’ve ever spend time physically going to and from Capitol Hill on the subway or the buses, it’s pretty hard not to notice the advertising. This isn’t standard advertising, for soap or consumer products, it’s advertising for corporate lobbying. Boeing splays posters all over Capitol South about their job creating efforts, JP Morgan for American innovation, and the American Association for I Just Set Up This Coalition to Push Corrupt Products for whatever the lobbyists have dreamt up that day.
The Hill trade publications have these same ads; in fact you can pretty much tell what is being fought over in Congress by the ad campaigns. Lobbyists take a slice of their budget, put it into ads, and thereby ensure that all information channels into policy-makers are owned by industry-friendly sources. Journalists on the Hill often go back and forth between staff jobs, think tanks, and lobby shops. This has traditionally formed a high wall around policy-making. With traditional tools of lobbying, campaign finance, and private think tanks replacing government expertise, the wall has traditionally been impenetrable. Staffers on the Hill literally have the Financial Services Roundtable and/or Mortgage Bankers Association put on “financial services university”, a multi-day training on how the financial system works.
The problem isn’t that they do this, it’s that there were almost no other structured ways to learn about finance if you were outside the industry. If you needed to learn about credit default swaps, it seemed no one could give you credible information except financial services lobbyists. In 2008, no one could tell you what was going on, except Treasury and the Fed. This monopoly of information allowed for enormous corruption in decision-making, as Congress was steam-rolled into approving TARP despite enormous skepticism among rank-and-file members.
But something odd happened in 2008, during and in the wake of the crisis. Capitol Hill staffers and members of both parties began looking for expertise on how finance actually worked. And they began reading financial blogs. Lobbyists just didn’t or couldn’t help them understand how to deal with the massive systemic failures; they knew in some sense that the information they were getting was rigged. They just didn’t know how. The financial blogs began to tell them.
Over the course of the next few years, the financial blogs became a new alternative system which delivered one of the most valuable commodities that previously had been monopolized by financial lobbyists and institutions like the Fed – credible information. That’s why there was an actual debate during Dodd-Frank over reining in the size of banking institutions, and auditing the Fed. Instead of second order industry shills distributing information they have been fed by the PR departments of big banks, communities of end-users of finance began to talk directly to lawmakers through mediated forums on the internet.
Naked Capitalism is at the heart of this new financial blogosphere. Yves builds her arguments meticulously, with the help of a community that is actually engaged in the system being reformed or challenged. Together, you and Yves challenges the witch doctors of finance, the economists in the Fed, at Treasury, in the housing finance industry. This site has seen the propagation of the chain of title theory on mortgage origination, and there have been multiple hearings on the Hill on the housing finance situation because of the work Yves and you have done. These are literally trillion dollar questions being influenced by this community.
Many people give to politicians, or charities, or foundations. They do so because they believe doing so will create leverage for change. And they are right. It’s why the big banks buy up every economists they can, why it’s nearly impossible to find experts who are untainted by the corruption in the system. Yves isn’t part of that, you aren’t part of that, and Naked Capitalism isn’t part of that. This forum stands apart in the integrity and value it brings to the debate. I pushed Yves to ask you for donations, because I know how much you want this site to influence the debate, to grow, and thrive. So far, there have been hundreds of us that have given to show that. I can guarantee there is no higher leverage investment than Naked Capitalism in terms of making a better society.
The truth is, you can get lies for free. Wall Street is only too happy to buy advertising, to make sure you hear from their well-credentialled experts. If you are not paying for your media, though, then they are. And you aren’t the customer, you are the product being sold. While this arrangement works, what it means is that you’ll get lies for free. And this is a very expensive proposition. So I hope that you’ll consider, if you haven’t already, putting some dollars towards the Naked Capitalism fundraiser. If you can’t afford much, give only a few bucks. If you can afford more, give more. If you can afford to give a lot, give a lot. It will pay for itself, I guarantee you. This isn’t just giving, it’s a statement that you are want a different debate, a different society, and a different culture. It’s about saying you are tired of the lies you are being fed for free, and are willing to put your valuable resources into reshaping how information in our society flows. It will help policy-makers understand that if they make good decisions, they have allies, and if they don’t, they have enemies.
Naked Capitalism is a very powerful leverage point. Yves and the Naked Capitalism community are relentless, day in and day out. That’s how policy-makers operate, relentlessly, day in and day out. If you’re there, as they make decisions, they will have no choice but to listen. They may not do what you want, but they will at least by forced to hear that there is an alternative. And that, my friends, is power.