Learn Everything You Need to Know About the Economy from a 'South Park' Episode
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Our monetary high priests’ readings of the economic Tarot have taken the place of centuries of lived experience, cross-country comparisons and testable theories. Their say alone can justify policies of austerity and debt reduction peddled to us most often by the right. You’ve heard of faith-based social initiatives? Welcome to myth-based economics.
With the Economy established as our overlord, the bankers and CEOs who interpret its omnipotent ways can be seen as its ordained intermediaries, presiding in their too-big-to-fail temples. Simple serfs like you and I hand over tithes and tributes in the form of obscure fees, but frustrated as we may get, we don’t dare defy the clergy of finance. No matter how naked their greed and obvious their sins, we’re scared to topple these people. Without them who would make sense of and pay proper homage to the Economy? The direct line of communication to the almighty dollar is theirs alone.
Like their priestly predecessors, those closest to the Economy dress up in their bespoke Brooks Brother vestments, break all the rules, and tell the rest of us peons to keep our heads down and noses clean and to sacrifice. CEOs’ golden parachutes and bankers’ bonuses, doled out regardless of performance, make the old-school practice of selling indulgences seem almost quaint. And yet, for fear of upending the established order, making Wall Street less “competitive,” and thus enraging the Economy anew, our leaders turn a blind eye. Or, perhaps more aptly, offer a wink and a nod.
As of this writing the Justice Department has yet to try a single financial firm executive in criminal court for fraud. Let me clarify—our government hasn’t even tried to try them. Granted, there have been some civil finger wagging and a few lines that are—considering the riches of the parties involved—little more than chump change. Some may make the argument that this failure even to attempt to hold top bankers accountable is due simply to the fact that while deeply unethical, their actions were not actually illegal. In other words, they fall under the heading of stupid and crappy but do not extend to violation of our laws. But refusing to even ask the question in court signals just how loathe we are to challenge these mighty men of money.
Mainline thinking about the U.S. economy is starting to resemble Scientology: beyond a coterie of high-profile, high-income believers, the more those of us outside the fold learn about the teachings, the wackier the whole enterprise sounds.
Members who attempt to leave either orthodoxy—in one case a church and in the other a market-worship orientation—are shunned and ostracized.
Where once we looked to the weather to indicate how we were tracking with God, now televised market reports tell us hourly how the Economy regards our latest offerings. Whether we have our life savings wrapped up in the stock market or have nothing at all, a bad NASDAQ report today has become as crucial as rainfall quantities were to our ancestors: a serious matter of life or death. You may have no idea what the 10-year T-note is, but hearing that it has fallen as good as assures you there’ll be lean times ahead.
The debt clock, the consumer price index, the unemployment report, the latest quarterly earnings—we’re bombarded by figures we barely understand that nonetheless profoundly affect how we feel about ourselves and the world. Our hope and our happiness have become intimately tied to abstractions. It’s a quick hop from there to getting us to think we’re here for the Economy.
In a nutshell, the overriding message is twofold: it’s your fault that the Economy sucks, but there’s not much you can do to improve it. This storyline must sound achingly familiar to Christians. The blame for damnation to hell lies with you and you alone. Yet though prayer and piety are good ideas, only God determines who merits redemption. Economic salvation is out of your hands, but that’s no excuse to quit your night job or start spending on luxury items like college.