Meet Dylan Ratigan, That Guy on MSNBC Who Can Talk a Mean Streak About the Scam Artists on Wall St.
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Financial markets had just opened on a Thursday morning in mid-November, but business journalist Dylan Ratigan was nowhere near his old stomping grounds on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. He was wearing a huge, ridiculous black wig, gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, and a white broad-collared jumpsuit while attempting to wrest a purse from a gray-haired grandmother. He looked like a homeless Elvis impersonator accosting a stranger on the subway. He was hosting a news program.
The sketch was theatrical and over-the-top, but on cable news, the subject of Ratigan's dramatization was actually a farther-flung outlier than the rhinestones on his bellbottoms. Ratigan blasted the repeal of Glass-Steagall, a Depression-era law that banned risky securities trading from the banking business. The repeal, Ratigan demonstrates, allowed boring old bankers to become risk-driven casino gamblers, taking grandma's deposits to the capital markets craps table. Today, few deny that the Glass-Steagall repeal was at the least a major contributing factor to the financial disaster of 2008. But in November 2009, this view was restricted to a handful of economists and reform advocates – Wall Street rejected it out of hand, and mainstream liberal publications were still defending the repeal and its architects.
When the banking industry devoured itself in 2008, Ratigan emerged as one of the most cogent critics of the Wall Street establishment. He has taken on everything from complex structural regulatory issues to outrageous banker bonuses with both passion and logical clarity.
"Banking should be a $100,000 a year job!" Ratigan told me in a recent interview. "You shouldn't get to take home billions just because you bet the right way on a bunch of credit default swaps, when you don't even have any capital and bet with some grandmother's savings you lying fuck!"
Yet Ratigan's faith in capitalism borders is unshaking. It borders on religious fervor. And unlike most of his contemporaries in financial journalism and cable news, Ratigan actually believes that capitalism is supposed to accomplish something productive. "Capitalism is a competition among different ideas and investments to solve society's problems," Ratigan says.
Thirty years ago, this idea was not controversial. But since the Reagan era, business journalists have shifted away from a focus on good economic ideas to the raw worship of wealth and power. Today's business anchors on cable news are not so much reporters as apologists for Wall Street's executive class, and the notion that capitalism ought to serve the common good has been largely banished from financial discourse. On CNBC and in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal , greed is the only good, and profits from public destruction are as fair and reasonable as the salary paid to a surgeon to save lives. Financial commentators truck this idea out to network talk shows, presenting capitalism as a system devoted to getting rich. Solving society's problems is for charity houses.
Ratigan insists that his basic economic worldview—one where business competition could serve a useful social function—has been with him since before he began working as a cub reporter for Bloomberg News at the age of 22. Now 38, Ratigan survived Bloomberg's reporter-mills and a lengthy stint on CNBC to emerge as a host of one of MSNBC's most powerful programs, a rare mainstream cable news show dedicated almost entirely to economic and financial affairs.
"For me, there was a radical break in September 2008. You couldn't look at the system,--both its collapse and why it was collapsing-- as anything that lived up to what I thought it should. It's all predators. The economy is built around Chinese slaves, robot shareholders and bankers who gamble with taxpayer money. That doesn't work."