Money bought freedom; without it one could never be free.
6 months ago, this fundraiser contribution would have been written very differently. I had, you see, let my habitual naivety get the upper hand and optimism tormented me. I’d quite forgotten – despite a long, long history – the sheer bloody nerve of the established order to resist the inevitable. And how easily you can be fooled by a Phony War staged by the mainstream media.
The social-political environment or, if you’ll forgive the crassness, the business model of slavery persisted for centuries. Autocratic monarchy for millennia. Did I really think that neoliberalism with all of its attendant ills could be put to bed in the, what?, less than 10 years since the Global Financial Crisis?
Well, yes, I did.
I’d even leaned toward dismissing, unwisely you might feel, Naked Capitalism’s dogged determination to cover unflinchingly the unrelenting flow of wrongdoing – be it financial repression by business, elite-serving economic theory from academia or special-interest featherbedding by government – as characteristic East Coast neurosis. Wasn’t what was now needed something a bit more like the British muddle through mentality and maybe even a dose of Keep Calm and Carry on Blitz spirt?
And it wasn’t even as if I couldn’t, only earlier this year, find evidence to support a more hopeful outlook. After all, in U.S. politics, of all places, the political landscape was on the cusp of being transformed. Bernie Sanders was giving the uber-establishment stalwart Hillary Clinton a serious run for her money (in every sense of the word) in the Democratic Primaries on the left. And on the right, dismal dead wood like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz who seemed determined to be living proof that dinosaurs really do still roam the earth were crushed by Donald Trump’s shameless blend of hopium, nationalism and novelty act entertainment. Which, whatever you might think of it, was a change from the usual – a usual which had, apparently, now sufficiently roused voters out of their apathy to demonstrate that they really would be picking “none of the above” from now on.
In Europe too, unaccountable, arrogant and technocratic institutions like the European Union had been shaken by Brexit. The talk amongst the political classes and the mainstream media went that the only way the threat of nationalism in France and Italy could be headed off was through serious meaningful changes – changes that went demonstrably towards redressing the balance between those who benefited from a capitalist economy and those who didn’t.
For my own industry, Too Big to Fail banking, there was also a palpable change in tone. Selling worthless products, designing in gotcha tripwires, figuring that regulations was something one paid attention to only if you thought the regulator was looking – went from being sure things to career advancement to a sign that you’d not got the memo.
This narrative would have all been very nice, if only it had been true.
What I hadn’t bargained on was just how susceptible I am – perhaps we all are, certainly a lot of us anyway – to being swept up in a fiction. That fiction is bought and paid for by the vested interests that benefit from it.
Big money from big corporations buys favours and influence from the entrenched political classes. The influence is used to secure favourable tax treatment, subsidies and deregulation of anything from environmental protections, anti-trust laws or labour rights. It was ever thus.
But what’s new is an emerged class of enablers in academia, media and government. Academics provide ideological air cover through economic theory written by economists who reap the rewards and who have something to gain by perpetuating it. A tame media who also secure their own survival by not upsetting advertisers is only too happy to repeat the neoliberal clichés. And governments complete the performance through a show of regulatory theatre – making a song and dance about reigning in market excesses and abuses but doing nothing substantive to prevent them.
You have to admire the adaptability of this unholy trinity (big business, politicians and their enablers). Just when the old tropes such as “government is like a household and needs to live within its means”, “business creates wealth and that’s the only way that standards of living improve so nothing should impede business’ ability to grow” or, who can forget, “tax cuts allow you to keep more of your own money instead of giving it to the government who’ll waste it” had become so shop-soiled they met with, as a minimum, popular questioning and, increasingly, popular derision, suddenly we started reading about a whole new awareness of inequality in the mainstream press and seeing challengers to the political norms on the TV news.
It’s no wonder the mainstream media and, dare I says it, even I, lapped this up.
Within each of us it’s almost like we’re pre-wired to want to seize on a good outcome from even the direst of situations. The reason we’re suckers for those tales of tragedy, triumph and redemption is because they speak to a need which is deep within us – that humanity will progress not regress and that tomorrow will be better than today.
So when the mainstream media runs stories of how big business sees the errors of its ways and will henceforth stop exploiting people or that regulators know that it’s wrong to use the revolving door between their offices and big money in the private sector for their own personal gain achieved at the detriment of those they are supposed to protect, or politicians suddenly get that tolerating tax evasion hurts the economy more than it generates as a benefit from business – and everyone realises that they’ve been bad, they’ll confess their sins and then get forgiveness – we enjoy this mapping of cookie cutter pop psychology familiarity onto the strange and perturbing events in our lives. Those sorts of stories almost write themselves. They sell papers. They drive ratings. These generate advertising revenue or subscribers.
There’s way too much money to be made in keeping things exactly as they are. That is why the mass media continues to try to delude us with a story arc that goes through all the predictable stages of tragedy, redemption and eventually triumph for those outside the elite. We need a channel that can show us reality and differentiate it from the fictions we’re bombarded with.
This is a battle for ideas. The munitions for a battle for ideas is information. Information has the most vulnerable supply line possible. It can be hidden, stolen, distorted, filtered, obscured, changed and covered over. We therefore need a channel which has the same goals as we do and, if not run by us, is run along the lines we need it to be run along. That channel is Naked Capitalism.
If, like me, you work in finance or the other FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) industries, we need to share our stories, experiences, outrage and demands – our information. Naked Capitalism is a place to do that.
The fact that you’re reading this here, now, suggests that you’ve lost your innocence about what you’re working to prop up. Reluctantly or unwittingly propping up maybe. But propping up nevertheless. If you have personally benefitted, or continue to benefit, materially from your participation in these businesses you need to recognise, if you haven’t already done so, that you need to make redress to society for the harms which those business have done and are doing.
You can do that by making a contribution such as in the reader comments sections. Or by sending the editor useful details of what might be the basis for a great article. If you’re fighting foreclosure, struggling to find a job or have a job that doesn’t pay a living wage, that’s fine.
But if you too are a fellow traveller in the FIRE sectors we work in we need to do more than provide warm words. We are most likely not, comparatively, poorly remunerated. Naked Capitalism needs to cover its operating costs and we can almost certainly afford to help finance that by making a contribution to this fundraiser. Give whatever you can, whether it’s $5, $50, or $5000, via the Tip Jar, which tells you how to donate by check, credit, or debit card. And if you send a check, tell Yves at yves@nakedcapitalism. Put “Check is in the mail” in the subject line and tell her how much is en route so she can include your contribution in her running tally.
We also know that the exploitative businesses we tacitly support by our continuing to work there do not hesitate to spend their ill-gotten gains controlling the flow of information. Which means that we know how valuable information is. Let’s invest in something that will help us challenge what we know, from our own first-hand experience, needs to be challenged. So give at the Tip Jar.
I’d be lying if I said There Is No Alternative. There is an alternative and it is called the mainstream media. But as we have seen, that alternative is dreadful. So please, as I have, donate to this fundraiser. Let’s make sure there is at least one channel for the real, unvarnished and consistent telling of the truth.