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« Irreverent Thoughts | Main | Religious Expression vs. Hate Crimes »


I’m so depressed. And angry. I’ve been reading Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Time Swindle and the Unlikely comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank.[1] It’s not the book’s fault I’m depressed. Frank, in plain understandable English, is simply telling me some things I already knew and some things I didn’t know. For example, the economic crisis that started in 2008 and continues to run with no end in sight, taught me that all governments - democracies, theocracies, dictatorships, socialist, communists - exist for the wealthy. Frank just makes it difficult for me to pretend that I got that wrong. As Frank says: “The awful but unmistakable message of the bailouts was that the lords of Wall Street owned the government.”[2] I would quickly add that the lords of the Corporation of London own the UK government too. In US parlance, governments are of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy. I’m so naive to have thought it could be any other way.

Frank’s opinion is based in part on his criticism of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the USA: “$700 billion as a generalized rescue fund for the nation’s banks, to be administered however the former Goldman Sachs chairman, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, saw fit.” As the banks were being bailed out, the rest of the American economy “spun into the worse slump since the Depression.” As millions lost their jobs and countless small business “were wiped out,” those who caused the crisis were saved.[3] If Frank lived in the UK he would no doubt feel the same about the ridiculous Project Merlin, which I assume was never meant to be anything other than a way to appease people like me while making virtually no demands on the banks, and the Vickers Report which, while having some value, was kicked into the long grass for nine years. Even some bankers have said that nine years would give them plenty of time to lobby the thing to death.

Frank begins his book by describing the Great Depression and the public and governmental reaction that followed the crash. Comparing our crisis to that of the 1930’s, he notes that this time around there has been no “surge in formal worker militancy” while state governments have made moves to kill organised labour. There has been no outpouring of defiance by the “foreclosed-upon,” but there has been a successful campaign to destroy fair-housing advocacy. There was no uprising of the Left, but the Right has formed into an effective and angry movement preaching free market ideals and protection of the rich. Governments have not moved to regulate the financial industry, but casino banking and the bonus culture continues. While in the 1930’s bankers lost their jobs and were arrested for illegal activities, this time around not one banker anywhere has been held responsible (though I should mention that the ex-chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland may lose his knighthood –that will teach him!). And while Roosevelt’s New Deal successfully pulled the US out of depression, today austerity programmes dominate around the world (even the World Bank and the IMF, neither exactly left wing radical Keynesian institutions, are saying that austerity is killing growth and leading to another fall).[4]

The magazine Trader Monthly’s strap line was “See It, Make It, Spend It” and existed to help bonus-rich bankers spend their money. The magazine described a $30,000 turntable as “a huge middle finger to everyone who enters your home.” Frank: “If you don’t understand why someone would want to greet his guests in such a way, you didn’t understand what made the Bush era go.”[5] This sort of arrogance reminds me that when the CEO’s of the three major auto manufacturers went to Washington to ask for taxpayers money they arrive in their private jets. When challenged about their mode of travel, they just didn’t understand what the problem was. When people in the UK became angry watching state own banks give their employees huge bonuses in the midst of the economic crisis leaving it to the rest of us to pick up the pieces with our jobs, pensions and social services, the bankers didn’t understand and said it was time to stop banker bashing. Privatising success and socialising failure seemed a reasonable policy for the bankers. The fact that we did not agree was irrelevant. While Frank is speaking here of the US situation, the parallels can easily be found in the UK:

“If ever a financial order deserved a thirties-style repudiation, this one did. Its gods were false. Its taste was bad. Its heroes were oafs and brutes and thieves and bullies. And all of them failed, even on their own stunted terms: The ‘MBA president’ and his ‘market-based’ government; the ‘K Street Project’ and the ‘superlobbyists’ who epitomized it’ the federal agencies that had learned to think of private industry as their  ‘customers’; the sleepy regulators, ignoring the red telephone ringing in the next room; and our fleet of hedge fund billionaires, chortling on their yachts, as they steered toward the iceberg. All of it should by rights have met its end.”[6]

Instead, the whole damn thing was bailed out, with my money.

So, I recommend Pity the Billionaire but it may bring you down. Depression is a symptom of my anger. My anger is the result of feeling powerless. When people run for office they sing a good song. But once they are in office there is little I can do to stop them screwing me if the rich need a helping hand and some legislative protection. And yet during every election we either believe the song or try our best to believe it. What can we do?

And just after I finished this blog I turned to the newspaper. The first thing I read was this:

Millions of ordinary families are unlikely to see their earnings return to pre-recession levels until 2020, a report from a leading thinktank warns today. But it predicts that the income of the wealthy will continue to rise over the same period.

Not much you can say to that.


Last week in my blog Religious Expression vs. Hate Crimes I wrote that five men in the UK were on trial for hate crimes against gay people. Three of those men have been found guilty. As I write, sentencing has not been reported.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

[1] Frank, Thomas. Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Time Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, but Thomas Frank. London: Harvill Secker, 2012.

[2] Ibid., p. 33.

[3] Ibid., p. 32.

[4] Frank gives the important statistics on the New Deal: in the USA “GDP shrank dramatically from 1929 to 1933, then abruptly reversed course in the year Roosevelt took office. Real GDP increased 11% in 1934, 9% in 1935, and 13% in 1936...the growth between 1933 and 1937 was the highest we have ever experienced outside of wartime.” (page 132)

[5] Frank, Thomas. Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Time Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, but Thomas Frank. London: Harvill Secker, 2012, p. 30.

[6] Ibid., p. 31.


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