This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 355 donors have already invested in our efforts to shed light on the dark and seamy corners of finance. Join us and participate via our Tip Jar or read about why we’re doing this fundraiser and other ways to donate, such as by check, on our kickoff post or one discussing our current target.
By Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at https://twitter.com/matthewstoller and he can be reached at stoller at gmail.com.
First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then they can actually just keep cycling through those, turns out. – James Adomian
This is a somewhat unusual post, because I’m going to explain why I think you should put a few dollars towards this site and Yves Smith. I’m plunking down $100 myself because what this site, its readers, and this community mean to me and to the possibility of social change in this country. You can give here, or you can read on.
I’ve been in politics for ten years. What got me into the fray in the first place was the war in Iraq. In 2002, I was not an opponent of the authorization to use force, I in fact supported it for the worst possible reason. I thought that Democrats should vote for authorization because it would “take the issue off the table” for the 2002 elections, and give Democrats a better chance of winning back Congress. On the policy merits, I didn’t trust Bush, but there was no question Saddam had WMDs. Surely the New York Times, the Harvard Institute of Politics, Thomas Friedman, John Kerry, Colin Powell, and the imprimatur of many of the institutions I had trusted in my life, all of whom uniformly supported this vote, couldn’t be openly dishonest. That would be too difficult to even consider.
My time working in politics started from that ghastly error. I first worked in elections and then in policy, and my time has largely been about understanding the modern architecture of discourse and power. What I slowly realized, over course of several years, is how America’s institutional fabric is largely set up to tell myths and lies to the people making policy, so that they make policy congruent with the interests of financial elites. Most of this is done by recruiting gullible elitists to serve as bureaucrats, and then feeding them a steady diet of news stories and social and financial rewards reinforcing their preconceived ideas about themselves. You know the talking points – cutting Social Security and programs for the poor is brave, whereas standing up for the interests of the rich means having the courage to reach across the aisle. Energy independence, private enterprise, public-private partnerships, etc. When you hear these, thousands of times, over the course of years, it’s overwhelming.
And those that can’t be persuaded, are bribed. Those that can’t be bribed or persuaded, are given a whole series of treatments to neutralize them. The most important is actually that of isolation. It is extremely lonely to be a sole voice in the room, when the entire weight of opinion within your agency, bureau, company, legislature, etc. is against you. You feel crazy, like perhaps you can’t possible be correct. If you are young, you change your mind, and contour yourself to what your superiors think, much as I did when I thought that the authorization vote must be correct. If you are a careerist, you bide your time and your tongue. Without backup, there is little even the most dedicated person can do. Naked Capitalism is that backup. It’s the place where thousands of us come together, some experts in finance, some experts in politics, some just having problems with foreclosures. We talk, we dish, and we explore what is going on, and the right way to solve public policy problems.
When the bailouts came, I recognized the discourse immediately as identical to the foreign policy discussions prior to the Iraq war. I had experienced the doomsday prophecies already, the various establishment organs lying to push policy. But I didn’t understand the details, how to think about the banking system. Naked Capitalism helped provide both the quality content and the confidence of a group to that problem. It seems like a dark time now, because as much as we tried, we didn’t succeed. But, and here’s what we know for sure, there are more crises coming. And every time one hits, whether it’s Sandy or the financial crisis, more people become radicalized, more realize that we must change our policy models. The content and community produced here become more important.
In that way, Naked Capitalism, like Occupy Wall Street, is a threat to the establishment. I wrote of Occupy as a “Church of Dissent”, because it was a space, a place where people could come together to build a different narrative about our society. Right now, Occupy is embarrassing the government through its phenomenal work serving the victims of Sandy, while also showing that a different way of organizing our social resources is possible. And that too is what Naked Capitalism and this community really has done, for financially oriented elites. Yves has created, through tireless (and I do mean tireless) work, a credible place to discuss the shape of the world that is being created. It may seem like a financially oriented site, but finance is essentially an abstraction, a representation of how we use resources. Naked Capitalism, through the extremely high standards Yves has laid out in terms of the accuracy of the content, has helped us to puncture through this abstraction, to the consequences of the predatory financial framework in which we find ourselves.
This is a key step in building the new world we know is coming. It’s to get us, together, to talk to each other, learn from each other, and recognize that mobilizing our collective intellectual honesty is the only way we will get there. Naked Capitalism is a community. Yves is obsessed with listening to your comments, to your emails, to your thoughts and ideas. And she genuinely cares, to an extent I’ve never seen, about getting every single detail on the policy right. I pretty much know that if it’s on this site, it’s probably correct.
This is essential for taking on an elite gone mad. When every institutional power center is leaning on every policymaker to push more carbon into the atmosphere, to cut social programs for all of us, to ratchet up the war machine, to empower the TBTF banks, dissent becomes more and more difficult. But the irony is that it is times like these when the system is weak, when the lies become even more important. Naked Capitalism is the antidote. It isn’t the whole solution, obviously. But do not underestimate the importance of having a consistent top quality community discussing financial regulations, politics and economics with social justice as the goal. This stuff is actionable, it can and sometimes does turn into policy.
And I guarantee you, that putting a few bucks (or more than a few bucks if you can afford it) will come back manifold, in the form of a new world that is more humane, that is more just, and that we can be proud of.