Lords of Disorder: How the Big Banks Are Designed to Prey off Our Economic Misery
The President’s “sequester” offer slashes non-defense spending by $830 billion over the next ten years. That happens to be the precise amount we’re implicitly giving Wall Street’s biggest banks over the same time period.
We’re collecting nothing from the big banks in return for our generosity. Instead we’re demanding sacrifice from the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young, the middle class – pretty much everybody, in fact, who isn’t “too big to fail.”
That’s injustice on a medieval scale, served up with a medieval caste-privilege flavor. The only difference is that nowadays injustices are presented with spreadsheets and PowerPoints, rather than with scrolls and trumpets and kingly proclamations.
And remember: The White House represents the liberal side of these negotiations.
The $83 billion ‘subsidy’ for America’s ten biggest banks first appeared in an editorial fromBloomberg News – which, as the creation of New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, is hardly a lefty outfit. That editorial drew upon sound economic analyses to estimate the value of the US government’s implicit promise to bail these banks out.
Then it showed that, without that advantage, these banks would not be making a profit at all.
That means that all of those banks’ CEOs, men (they’re all men) who preen and strut before the cameras and lecture Washington on its profligacy, would not only have lost their jobs and fortunes in 2008 because of their incompetence – they would probably lose their jobs again today.
Tell that to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, both of whom have told us it’s imperative that we cut social programs for the elderly and disabled to “save our economy.” The elderly and disabled have paid for those programs – just as they paid to rescue Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, and just as they implicitly continue to pay for that rescue today.
Dimon, Blankfein and their peers are like the grandees of imperial Spain and Portugal. They’ve been given great wealth and great power over others, not through native ability but by the largesse of the Throne.
Lords of Disorder
Just yesterday, in a rare burst of candor, Dimon said this to investors on a quarterly earnings call: “This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”
It’s true, of course. Other corporations – in fact, everybody else – has to survive or fail in real-world conditions. But Dimon and his peers are wrapped in a protective force field which was created by the people, of the people, and for … well, for Dimon and his peers.
The term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier and analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks.
Dimon’s comment was another way of saying that his bank, and everything it represents, isThe Shock Doctrine made manifest. The nation’s megabanks are arbitraging their own failures, and the economic crises that flow from those failures.
These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.
We who have made these banks “antifragile” have crowned their leaders our Lords of Disorder.
Thanks to fat political contributions, Dimon manages them well. So do his peers. Misery is the business model. And by Dimon’s reckoning another shock’s coming any day now.
Money For Nothing
Bloomberg’s use of the word ‘subsidy’ in this instance can be slightly misleading. Public institutions don’t issue $83 billion in checks to Wall Street’s biggest banks every year. But they didn’t let them fail as they should have – through an orderly liquidation – after they created the crisis of 2008 through fraud and chicanery. Instead it allowed them to prosper from it, creating that $83 billion implicit guarantee.
As we detailed in 2011, the TARP program didn’t “make money,” either. Banks received a free and easy trillion-plus dollars from our public institution, on terms that amounted to a gift worth tens of billions, and possibly hundreds of billions.
That gift prevented them from failing. In private enterprise, this kind of rescue is only given in return for part ownership or other financial concessions. But our government asked for nothing of the kind.
Breaking up the big banks would have protected the public from more harm at their hands. That didn’t happen.
Government institutions could have imposed a financial transaction tax, whose revenue could be used to repair the harm the banks caused while at the same time discouraging runaway gambling. They still could.
They could have imposed fees on the largest banks to offset the $83 billion per year advantage we’ve given them. They still could.
But they haven’t. This one-sided giveaway is the equivalent of an $83 billion gift for Wall Street each and every year.
Cut and Paste
$83 billion per year: Our current budget debate is framed in ten-year cycles, which means that’s $830 billion in Sequester Speak. You’d think our deficit-obsessed capital would be trying to collect that very reasonable amount from Wall Street. Instead the White House isproposing $130 billion in Social Security cuts, $400 in Medicare reductions, $200 billion in “non-health mandatory savings,” and $100 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts.
That adds up to exactly $830 billion.
No doubt there is genuine waste that could be cut. But $830 billion, or some portion of it, could be used to grow our economy and brings tens of millions of Americans out of the ongoing recession that is their daily reality, even as the Lords of Disorder continue to prosper. It could be used for educating our young people and helping them find work, for reducing the escalating number of people in poverty, for addressing our crumbling infrastructure, for giving people decent jobs.
It’s going to Wall Street instead.
The right word for that is tribute. As in, “a payment by one ruler or nation to another in acknowledgment of submission …” or “an excessive tax, rental, or tariff imposed by a government, sovereign, lord, or landlord … an exorbitant charge levied by a person or group having the power of coercion.” (Courtesy Merriam-Webster)
In this case the tribute is made possible, not by military occupation, but by the hijacking of our political process by the corrupting force of corporate contributions.
The fruits of that victory are rich: Bank profits are at near-record highs. Most of the country is still struggling to dig out from the wreckage they created but, as Demos’ Policy Shop puts it, “for the banks it’s 2006 all over again.”
On Bended Knee
“Millions for defense,” they said in John Adams’ day, “but not one cent for tribute.”
Today we’re paying for both. That doesn’t leave much for the elderly, the disabled, the impoverished, the children, or anybody else who doesn’t “benefit from disorder.” Nobody’s fighting for them in this budget battle.
That leaves the public with a clear choice: Demand solutions that are more just and democratic – or submit willingly to the Lords of Disorder.