Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ass-Kickings Begin: Joe Stiglitz Goes Seven Samurai

The feeling of living in America under the Bush Administration was very much like being jammed into the back-seat of an SUV on a rainy night with a bunch of screaming-drunk teenagers driving way too fast. An all-too common experience in my taxi-free teenage terrain. If you had the misfortune to be sober (or god help you, female) in that situation, it went like this: you'd keep begging them to slow down and asking to get out, and they'd keep roaring, "Shut up, ya f***in' pussy! Yeeee-hahahahahaaa! Hey, Matt, you gonna pass the goddamn bong back here, or f*** it with your pencil-dick?"

As broken glass spits through the passenger cabin and we hunch for the next climacteric crunch on our way down the economic cliffside, wondering if we're going to die or just fracture a skull, some state trooper types have appeared on the scene. Such as Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist whom Republican De-Regulators have derided as dumber than owl shit. He has the unique distinction amongst economists of having been fired by the World Bank (see interview with Greg Palast, "The Globalizer Who Came in from the Cold") in the wake of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. He had the temerity to suggest mild land reform and regulation as solutions to free market failures.

In a Vanity Fair article, Stiglitz assesses the damage, and then goes effortlessly chop-socky on the irresponsible Icarian jobbernowls who have ruined so many lives. He describes a 20-year arc of systemic failure with the efficiency and clarity of a master, sketching five major phases of financial Walpurgisnacht. He understands finance like Picasso understood paint, dispenses an education in 2 pages, and ends his rap so:
The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal. Looking back at that belief during hearings this fall on Capitol Hill, Alan Greenspan said out loud, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Henry Waxman pushed him, responding, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working.” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan said. The embrace by America—and much of the rest of the world—of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today.
For us citizens, it all started when we went to a party and voted to get into that car with those people. Opinions may differ on intent and consequence of the bad decisions made there, but it is critical to accurately assign blame so we can move forward towards the MacGuffin embedded in Stiglitz's remarks. He's just getting warmed up, and will be joined by a gathering chorus to drown out the discredited grobian chanticleers who hang about with "who, me?" expressions. What remains to be seen is if the nation-states themselves, in the wake of relentless corporate organization, remain strong enough to enforce regulation on global entities without becoming one themselves.


A. Peasant said...

Great analogy with the car, Lord-san. Though back in my day we were still cracking up the very last of the Pontiac GTOs.

I have to quibble with the exact nature of the mistake, however. I think it's more honest to say they knew this was all bullshit but always thought they could get away with it long enough to get out of the way before it all imploded. This oopsie-daisy stuff is just a self-serving act.

Anonymous said...

I fear for the future. All of a sudden, though, all the economists who were considered gibbering liberal crackpots - well, suddenly they make a lot of sense. They always made sense to me, too bad the foolish self-deluded republicans couldn't see the sense. Because now we're all probably screwed for at least several more years.

MarcLord said...

Funny, Peasant-chan (btw do you speak Japanese?), one can appear to be a doom-and-gloomer to 98% of people, and a cockeyed optimist to the other 2%. To misuse Einstein, I suppose it depends on what you think the universe has in mind for you.

There's another way to think about it, not that you're wrong--a more nuanced, adjustable view, multiple behavioral tendencies folded cubistically into two dimensions, an astrolabe for bullshit.

Some bona fides so you might give me a chance, because this is bound to be long: I'm an ex-Mormon missionary who brought 32 Germans into that special religion, the only person who could make that claim in the past 50 years and more. At the time, the average was under 1 German convert per missionary per two years, so by that measure, I'm an expert on bullshit and belief. It then took only 5 more years of questioning, researching and trying to find my courage for me to de-convert myself, follow the truth and leave my life behind.

In the research, I studied every interaction of the best BS artist yet born on the American continent, Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church. His powers and wit were such he sometimes converted sane, prosperous, strong-minded men to his cult literally within seconds of chance first meetings.

Here's the thing: the biggest reason he was successful was he believed his own bullshit. Yes there's power in the dark side, in dissimulation, in fakery, in exaggeration, but it's the core belief that provides the greater power, not the cynical misuse of it. Smith was also guilty of that, and it's what got him killed.

Oh, the merged trajectories of desire and belief. After securing the financial support of enough followers, Joseph Smith had to deal with his expansive libido. So god revealed to him the eternal doctrine of polygamy, which is: more women, being inherently more righteous than men, progress to the highest plane of heaven, which is godhood, and each god creates a universe with spirit children and worlds. Therefore, in practising polygamy, we emulate the gods, the ancients in the Bible, and 70% of the earth's population to this day. Smith had a gift for tidy doctrine, yet I have no doubt he deeply believed polygamy as coming not from himself, but divine revelation.

You're right. There are those advising or near the top who cynically knew this was bullshit all along, Leo Strauss and some Neocons come to mind, intel people, financial people. But it's most powerful when it happens Smith's way. Evil people exist and choose have to swim against the tide of human systems dynamics, even against evolution itself, and this tide is apparent in the genesis and progression of organizations.

Although belief may be nothing more than highly self-rationalized self-interest which the psyche manufactures and receives laterally as "revelations" and doctrines, the resulting organizations align themselves to the doctrine, which if successful passes into dogma and finally orthodoxy, such that in the last stages only the ones who can convincingly express pure congruence with that belief can be promoted to the top spots. While the low and middle ranks of a mature organization start to think it's all corrupt bullshit, the leadership sails merrily along, possibly for as very long time, and here's to the Catholic church for another thousand years.

It would be extremely difficult if not impossible to go undercover in the Mormon church, remain undetected, and reach the pinnacle. I'm an excellent candidate to do so, was on that track and know exactly what the leadership and flock would respond to, but even if I had the proper mindset (a cynical motivation to destroy it for the good of the world), I would in all likelihood fail. Because it would be extremely tiresome being around all the sincere believers. Eventually that would be noticed, and purged.

Belief is the glue of organization, the accellerant required for agglutination and growth. To found ones cynically is possible, and L. Ron Hubbard, Marx, and Leo Strauss are to some extent proof, the doctrines must be hermeticized in layers of contradictory gauze. Even so, the motivations of the secret cabals you know better than I are expressed as endless variations on the "we don't want to rule the world, we just want to save it" theme.

So, both entire organizations and the individuals who run them, indeed because of human nature's love affair with hierarchy, are naturally inclined to evangelize and enforce belief in self-serving nonsense.

There is a maxim which says that every great idea becomes ridiculous when taken to its logical conclusion. In their last stages organizations become orthodoxies which cut off all oxygen to dissent. They become brutally self-policing and externally murderous while seeking pure greenhouses in which the full brilliance of their doctrines can be illustrated. If the greenhouse withers, the organization is bereft of alternative solutions, having gotten rid of everyone who wanted to try something different. They will criticize the conditions, not the doctrine, and seek a bigger, more carefully hothouse. Eventually one of the people whose ideas they savaged will have scattered formerly despised seeds upon the ground which grew into fruit, and out-sell them.

My B-school Dean took me to meet Alan Greenspan at a dinner, and, knowing little about him, I probed about his past, his interests, his beliefs, all oblique ways of asking about his interest rate philosophy. He was keenly politic, keenly focused on the relationship of low interest rates to stock index stimulus. The next morning I called my Wall St. mentor, spilled the beans, and said, "I had dinner with Alan Greenspan last night. Buy. Just buy."

Alan Greenspan was not a cynic. He was an idealist willing to sacrifice every scruple in the pursuit of an adolescent belief, which happened to be tragically, fetishistically centered on the allure of free markets. He was once the strewer of new miracle seeds against FDR's nods to communism, and he had plenty of company.

A. Peasant said...

No, I do not speak Japanese. Thank you for this wonderful background. I edited a self-published book called The Plowmen by Boyd Dastrup, a Mormon, about the missionaries who brought Mormonism into what is now Oklahoma. Very committed people. Very earnest. Very strange theology.

Everything you expound here makes sense. People can convince themselves of many things -- the human mind being a curious thing, and the human will being easily enslaved to material comforts. Look at the great lengths Mormonism and free-market capitalism go to essentially legitimize the pursuit of carnal desires for sex and money. The ideologies are elaborate justifications for pursuing base instincts, made more 'believable' by being compartmentalized (ie: an economic philosophy does not develop rules about sex, like a religion would; and a religion does not foray too deeply into economics aside from tithing, for instance; yet both systems result *for the leaders* in the same place -- luxurious access to money, power and sex). So to the follower, the leaders appear to have a great life, and that inspires them to be good followers and enjoy the fruits of their labors (money, power, sex), conveniently spun to also "prove" that one is in God's good graces (ie: the prosperity gospel, a theological abomination combining all the worst bits in one convenient place).

If we have a disagreement, and I don't think we really do, it's just over how self-deluded the people at the top really are. This is hard to say. Perhaps you give them a little more benefit of the doubt than I do. My feeling is that, to be brutally honest, they must not be allowed to cling to the comforts of their delusions. Justice, at this point, requires they abandon them and be pressed mercilessly to admit that not only were they wrong, but also that *they should have known* they were wrong -- whether they did or not. (OK, I'm a bit of a theological prosecutor. I admit it.) Unrealistic expectation? I will admit yes. But pushing anyone to this point is actually doing them a favor, as it destroys the elaborate wall they have erected to keep out the divine knowledge of right and wrong. Then they can begin to live a more honest life and, very importantly, actively disembowel the ideology that many people are still following to their detriment.

These people at the top owe a little more to society than just begging off with a gee, sorry I was wrong. It's just not enough for me. (Sadly, I am not in charge.) Too much has been set in motion by the vigor of their delusions, and they should be forced to publicly dismantle their own ideological creations, not just back away slowly from the catastrophe. Let them cut the red wires and defuse the ideological bomb.

That would be my idea of justice. But as you can see, I'm an uncompromising total bitch that way.

MarcLord said...


We've got a shot at this--America has doubled-down several times and made the transition to a different country, albeit each of those times was accompanied by either a major war or foreign adventure. At least now there's the general recognition that our internal oil-based infrastructure is obsolete.

MarcLord said...

Ms. Peasant,

Oh we're in disagreement, I'm just not quite sure how yet. ;-) Maybe as you say on the extent, power, and genuineness of self-delusion at the top. Let's say I know that the human mind, even a healthy one, is capable of an incredible level of compartmentalization. Mormons, along with some intense experiences connected to my service, taught me that creating separate selves is an automatic human trait, a defense mechanism. It's the re-integration of those selves that's the toughie. For most people, it's too much to ask, they'll break and fly apart like glass. I nearly did.

Otherwise amen, sister, and welcome to the house of the Lord. Now for the Mormons, rubbing the hierarchy's nose in anything isn't really possible. They are masters of denial, pretty much any active Mormon is, and the top brass when confronted would simply (with all civility) cite that there are souls to save, cut the conversation short and leave.

A hooker or mistress sting is out, too, since they don't believe in, ummm, that kind of fun. My method of getting at them almost worked: forcing them to excommunicate me. I had them dead to rights, by rule in black and white--but the court bent their terms and only disfellowshipped me, and there the matter stands.

But the Bush Administration. I would like to see things lapse into incivility with the nose-rubbing, or more, and there's a good chance starting at the lower rungs. For example, I'm amazed that someone like that Yoo character is able to walk to his car without getting beaten into a hospital stay. At minimum. The damage he's done to the world, to our country, against humanity. It's very likely a jury would nullify almost any crime against him, and he teaches law at Berkeley. He is surely in peril.

Cheney will probably spend the rest of his life fighting lawsuits, scant cheer. Bush himself, his nuts are numb by now, and he enjoys the prophylactic of the presidency. You know I'm all over Obama, but he's not IMHO strong-wavelength on need for justice from the Bushies. He's coming from a loooong racial angle, in which justice has just been served. Plus there's the regular incoming President's need to not get distracted. More important shit to do, and I'd like to agree.

But BushCo is a special case, one of corporations taking over a country, and if justice in some form is not acceded, open-source vengeance will be taken. The magnitude of what they've done has created what you might call a karmic vacuum, and it's sucking our country into a black hole. We need to grab a cork, fast.

South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which many weren't happy with but it short-circuited all manner of heavy grievance. Our sit-rep isn't comparable to theirs, but something like that must be done here or big trouble will ensue. On the left, we should continue to be unreasonable and call for people's heads so Team Obama, like FDR, has to look back over the shoulder and threaten the right with dire consequences.

They should be forced to publicly dismantle their own ideological creations by an uncompromising total bitch. We're a fur piece from there, but nothing less will do. I pass the electrodes to you, my dear, attach them where you choose.

A. Peasant said...

Thank you, Sweetie. (rubbing hands together)

It blows my mind that you are an ex-Mormon missionary. Really. And I'm half German -- my mum being right off the boat, literally -- so you have some strange and wondrous gift to do what you did. No doubt.

As an aside, you can perhaps understand me by factoring in the German heritage, which is so effing picky, with the Irish Catholic, in equal parts, battling to the death. Fun fun fun. And of course my parents divorced after 25 years of misery. But I refuse to divorce or compartmentalize myself. So I promise you that I don't *mean* to be difficult to my loved ones, though I sometimes am and I apologize; but I would *love* to be **impossibly** difficult to those who inspire my fantasies of vengeance, because they have harmed the innocent. I trust you understand.

Moving on...this business with B-vitch is heating up.

It would be quite something if Rahm had to fall on his sword here for Obama. Or this might be another fantasy of mine....

MarcLord said...


I thought you might be, from your pic. And maybe your blog posts.

It's a long story. Necessarily, you learn a few things ringing 75,000 doorbells in a country, and in my case I idly wondered, "Were the Klingons stand-ins for Germans on Star Trek, or was it the Romulons?" Germans were conspicuously absent from the crew.

Maybe we can talk about the strange and wondrous gift someday. Faith, determination, wrestling with god and the supernatural. Not here, though. I've never put more effort into anything else.

Re: the Rahmster. His last conversations with Blago must've occurred on the weekend between when he was pegged as CoS and when he accepted. Transparency will probably be uncomfortable, but forthcoming.

A. Peasant said...

You rock. ;)

Naj said...

He's good at dodging though!
Isn't it funny how LONG it took the security to gather around him?

MarcLord said...

Ms. Peasant,

=) Thanks =)

MarcLord said...


yes, it's good to have a talent in life.

Maliki, on the other hand, doesn't bat an eyelash.

Still Life Living said...


Ole Joe Smith was a prophet (with a capital A), and he was real. I think he was really fucking cool. He did just what Jesus, John the Baptist, Job, Rilke, and others have done: They went out and saw god. How cool is that?

Yeah, maybe it wasn't your god. Maybe you aren't willing to let that god near your root chakra, and maybe Smith started using his "I get it" for social engineering purposes, and he crashed and burned in a Butch Cassidy ending "Hyrum, how many do you think are out there? 10? 15?"

But I do think that if you keep going bank to the same spot in nature for four years (and you know he was back there everyday, I mean if you see god somewhere you don't wait 365 days to go back). Well, if you spend that much time in nature, you are soon going to see the truth about the garden of eden, and from there on out it is all downhill.

MarcLord said...


I want to see god in my bank account. I'll start spending more time there.