Masaccio: Naked Capitalism – Making Change Possible

By Ed Walker, who writes as masaccio at Firedoglake. You can follow him at Twitter at @MasaccioFDL, and here’s his author page at Firedoglake.

Last Thursday President Obama took time out from his main job as cheerleader for the Forever War to carry out his official duties as cheerleader for Big-C capitalism. He spoke at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and did a rousing job in front of a group trained in the intricacies of neoliberal economics and business management, and ready to take their part in the corporate power structure. The speech was full of statistics, all showing a great recovery from economic disaster, thanks in no small part to what Obama called “sound decisions made by my administration.” He restated the ritual utterances demanded from the High Priest of Capitalism:

I actually believe that capitalism is the greatest force for prosperity and opportunity the world has ever known. And I believe in private enterprise — not government, but innovators and risk-takers and makers and doers — driving job creation.

And here’s the thing. If you only read the national business press, you wouldn’t be able to contest Obama’s facts, or to understand the massive and utterly unnecessary damage he and his administration inflicted on millions of people for the benefit of the financial sector. The national media, like the President, sees its role as cheerleading for capitalism, where every crime is ignored, every rich person is a genius, and every poor person is a moocher, and there is nothing wrong with free markets that more freedom for markets can’t cure.

The job of fleshing out the picture to include the damage done by the modern US form of unrestrained capitalism falls to a few writers on a few websites. None is better than Naked Capitalism. Here you get a group of outstanding writers deeply immersed in the minutiae of the financial system, and able to turn their knowledge into clear explanations of the crimes and misdemeanors of the FIRE sector.

Naked Capitalism showcases international writers who explain how the forces of neoliberalism are hollowing out other capitalist countries; economists not tied to the neoliberal fantasies, who open the way to alternative portrayals of our economy, rather than the ones taught at the Kellogg School of Management; writers with political backgrounds who can discuss the role of government and politics in creating the crushing burdens dumped onto the lower class and whatever’s left of the middle class, so that the dominant class can suck up all the money.

Perhaps most important, you get a persistent push to look closely at the parts that the richest among us don’t want us to see or understand. For example, private equity funds have been sucking the capital out of solid businesses for the last three decades, resulting in the destruction of a many thousands of jobs, outsourcing, and the crapification of US products. You’ll find that story here, in post after post, with numbers and links and solid explanations of the sleazy provisions of governing documents that pour money onto fund managers instead of investors; and the tax laws that make it so profitable for the managers. This isn’t the kiddy version, either. It’s the real thing, with documents you can read for yourself, experts to explain and refer to, and enough details to satisfy even the pickiest.

And you get a smart and funny group of people who read and comment. If you don’t understand something, ask in comments, and you’ll likely get sensible and smart explanations tailored to your questions. That is a benefit created by our host, who herself is frequently in the comments, mixing it up. Seeing this group clarifying the complexities of the financial system is a pleasure in itself. So too is seeing the effect it has on people who come to comprehend the reality instead of the sugar shell.

This isn’t a job for the faint of heart, or for people who expect instant results. The forces that brought us the Great Bailout dominate our economic discourse, pervading our legislatures, bureaucracy, media and power structures. The victories are few and partial at best, and frequently are lost to a hostile Supreme Court or an antagonistic crowd of captive regulators. We, the readers and writers at Naked Capitalism, may be correct, but it takes a mountain of effort to get a hearing, another mountain of effort to overcome the entrenched conventional understanding, and another mountain to overcome the money thrown into the battles against us and our fellow citizens. Change only comes if people like Yves Smith — and you — keep pushing for it.

That’s why it’s so important to support this site and Yves Smith. I ask that if you can, you do as I do, and contribute.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Massacio, you started my education back at FDL, late in 2008 when I could not understand why — after *years* of my TBTF bank practically begging me to take out more business loans — my TBTF bank wouldn’t lend a nickel.

    You linked to NakedCapitalism, and thus began my education in banking and PE.

    I suspect those students at Kellogg would be better armed for future careers if they spent a little less time with their textbooks, and more time reading NC.

    1. masaccio

      Good to see you again! I hope a few of those Kellogg people are tuning in, but sadly I fear they are more likely to be watching the cheerleaders on CNBC.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        I recall seeing some interesting stats about seriously declining viewership at CNBC, and here’s what a quick Google search turned up:
        — from last June at Zerohedge:
        (IF it is true that Jim Kramer had a mere 2,000 viewers last June, then Yves has many times the eyeballs – at a far better value per contributed dollar ;-)

        — Look at the October 2nd stats for this link:
        As I read the stats for 2 Oct 2014 at this site, CNBC had < 160,000 unique mobile viewers
        And < 1,100,000 unique online viewers
        If I were paying much for ads on CBNC, I'd be gnashing my teeth.

        Just to reiterate: I suspect that Yves — i.e., "one woman with two cats and an Internet connection in NYC” — is competitive with CBNC, if those stats are anywhere close to accurate.
        (And IIRC, on Oct 2nd, I happened to be reading NC while stuck on I-5 in Portland-Vancouver; not the first time that I’ve made decent use of my time in a traffic jam by catching up at NC. When I think how often I read on my mobile, I suppose that I should contribute quarterly… ;-)

  2. Jess

    Masaccio — Love your posts at FDL. (And here when they show up.) You’ve got a knack for connecting the dots. (And, yes, I’ve contributed to this year’s NC fundraiser.

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