By Outis Philalithopoulos
It was 2007, and I was having lunch with a friend. “Things are seriously wrong with the banks,” he said. “It’s going to be bad.” I didn’t know much about finance, but I said I’d like to learn more. “Read Naked Capitalism,” he said. (If you, too, have followed such an injunction, and wish to go straight to giving back, you can do so here, right now.)
It was spring of 2008, and I had gone to see Elizabeth Warren speak, before she was famous like she is today. After the talk I caught up with her for a moment. “I think what the authorities are doing in the aftermath of Bear Stearns might not be enough,” I said, a bit more flush with confidence now that I had been reading NC for a while. “No,” she said. “It won’t.” “I think there are more shoes yet to drop,” I added. “Yes, there are,” she agreed.
Late that summer a coworker mentioned his stock market investments to me. “I dunno,” I said. “I’d get out.” It’s the only time I’ve ever given someone a stock tip.
Three years later, it was a chilly night in New York, and I was visiting Occupy Wall Street. A well-dressed young man from one of the investment banks accosted me. “You guys don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Really?” I said. “You all assume that just because there was this crisis, and the banks were somehow involved, it had to have been because of something evil that the banks did,” he asserted.
I had read ECONned carefully. An hour later, after going through CDOs and CDS, through tranches and the failure to model risk correlations properly, after patiently interrupting the man at the same rate he interrupted me, he paused. “Yes,” he said. “These are fair points.”
This is the role Naked Capitalism has tried to fill – that of providing readers with a knowledge base so they can engage with a power structure that tries, politely or aggressively, to qualify all criticism as ignorant. Help arm yourself and others in this war for information. Go to the Tip Jar now and invest in better ideas, a better debate, and a better society. Whatever you give, whether $5 or $5,000, helps make all our voices heard.
In the past year, NC has provided original reporting that teases apart technical subjects, from financial regulation (Jerri-Lynn’s posts on Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, payday lending) to the Provident IT fiasco (Clive), to medical coding (Lambert), to India’s ill-fated demonetization project, to possible responses to Catalonia’s bid for independence (Yves).
Naked Capitalism has also exposed the mainstream media reporting of headline-grabbing stories, like exposing glaring omissions in the coverage of United Airline’s manhandling of passenger Dr. Dao. The site was also early to recognize and describe the enormous operational demands of Brexit as UK leaders compound the almost-certain huge damage through an arrogant and breathtakingly unprepared approach to negotiations. New contributor Hubert Horan dismantled the financials of Uber in a series that already looks prescient.
It is easy to underestimate the extent to which the tectonic plates of US political discourse have shifted. Ten years ago, if you were convinced that mainstream economics was more or less a pseudoscience, you were a kook. If you said out loud, to quote Clive, that getting and hanging on to a middle class job increasingly involves “dishonesty or exploitation of others in some way,” then you were an antisocial cynic.
Now none of that hardly raises an eyebrow. Readers, whatever their political affiliation, are unlikely to be astonished upon hearing that a Google-financed think tank fired all ten members of a team that praised increased regulation for firms like Google, or that CalPERS illegally posted an enormous trove of articles, thereby engaging in an epic case of copyright infringement. The awareness that something is broken in the way the modern world works has become more and more widespread.
The time seems to be ripe to start thinking creatively about how to make it a little less broken.
Curiously, dutiful readers of the mainstream media have recently been informed that this is off the table. Because actually, the problem of elite who steer the world in a direction that makes sense mainly for them is so yesterday. Sorry fellas, but we are now facing a new array of terrifying enemies, from Russian agents that brilliantly swung the election with $100,000 worth of ads, to socially reviled “nerds” who also swung the election through frog memes and other insidious tricks, to a sometimes disarmingly frank, more often grossly, embarrassingly incompetent president who, in reality, is literally a Hitler.
Through all of this horror, Naked Capitalism has tried to keep its head. Lambert’s patient analysis of election trends turned out to be more on target than famous analysts elsewhere. Later, he poured cold water on fantasies about faithless electors swinging the presidency for Clinton, while systematically teasing apart facile but widely-believed explanations for November 8. Jerri-Lynn and others have sharply criticized Trump’s policies where this was warranted, while refusing to buy into other scary but less well-founded stories.
Keeping discussions focused on analysis, rather than on endless signaling of one’s allegiances, has bothered certain people. Yves and Lambert can attest that while we get trolls from all walks of life, the most persistent and energetic ones have not been Gamergate/4chan denizens, but self-described “progressives” or “leftists” eager to prosecute deviations from correct doctrine. Almost as if the goal were not to live in a world with more meaningfulness and more joy, but to erect a prison in which everyone spends all of their time trying to prove that they are not irredeemable.
NC has meanwhile attracted determined attacks from profiles in courage like Vanity Fair and the Washington Post. Undaunted by its small staff and its shoestring budget, the site has held its own. When the Post promoted a shadowy outfit denouncing websites (like this one) as purveyors of Russian influence, NC spoofed the outfit’s own website in order to provide them with better advice on creating propaganda. Some have in fact suggested that the strange sense of humor displayed there bears earmarks of this humble writer’s style. I’m not sure where that idea came from.
We are living in a time of flux, in which the discourse is up for grabs. There are a great number of ways that things can go off the rails even worse than what we’ve already seen. These will happen without much effort, by saying things that one’s in-group wants to hear and just going with the flow.
To make some other sort of outcome possible will take real work – work in understanding how the world already is, and imagining how it might become. There are a number of ways to contribute to this effort. One of the cheapest and best is to help this website continue to thrive and speak out for all of us.