America and its populace have been lulled into a false sense of security by the images of relative prosperity it projects. We have cars and houses and iPads and game consoles, so we are not Sudan or Nigeria. There are no late-night infomercials of flies landing on skeletal white babies in some alleyway in Minnesota or Colorado. Okay. Fine. We have possessions, indulgences, but these do not equate to richness or poverty because anyone with decent credit can purchase those things. How many large purchases that you know of are made with cash these days? Name >10 and I will be impressed.
People in this country have been brainwashed into thinking that an image of impoverished has to include a severe lack of material wealth: begging on the street and soup kitchens. America then charges the victim of that lust for the American Dream with the responsibility for debt incurred seeking the image of prosperity, which entails class mobility as well as material wealth. This personal blame happens even in situations where crony capitalism runs rampant, and financial institutions are absolved of their crimes. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE. Put whatever psychological distance you want between yourself and the protesters, it is nearly impossible for an average person to make a life for themselves in this country without incurring some kind of debt. The credit score is just as ubiquitous and important as the Social Security number because it gives you some modicum of purchasing power when you might otherwise have none, that gamble for class mobility. Thus, the credit system and the image of prosperity, the pure narcissism of it, makes a hostage out of you and me because there’s no alternative you can think of, and so you ingratiate yourself to it, EVEN THOUGH the laws of the system are applied differently as a function of how much money you have or are worth.
Once those premises are accepted by people at large as “the norm”, the rest is straightforward. Allow the hostage to make more purchases on their credit card to boost their credit limit, show you are a customer that the industry can trust with ever ballooning sums. Then, give the hostage a gun (i.e. pre-approved ideas disseminated through Super PACs and popular media — images of false power & control with patriotic overtones) and tell them that the real enemies are the guys trying to tax whatever you don’t owe to your bank. The country is in more debt than you anyway, they’re the government of the United FUCKING States, they’re in it for the long haul, they don’t need all my cash. They can just print more money!
Congratulations America, you are Patty Hearst… up until the point where the housing bubble bursts and the house you took out a 500,000 dollar mortgage on is now worth only 250,000, and your annual salary doesn’t come close to paying it after calculating for cost-of-living expenditures. That and you get the ol’ “step into my office but shut the door behind you” because banks shut their wallets in times of economic duress and stop lending to business. You weren’t risky then, but you’re a hazard now.
Credit is not prosperity. A prosperous economy can have credit, but in and of itself, CREDIT != TANGIBLE PROSPERITY. Credit is Schrodinger’s prosperity, if anything; it is a gamble on future prosperity that may or may not actually be paid off, plus additional interest. And just because I own that fridge doesn’t mean I can afford to put food into it; just because I own that car doesn’t mean I can pay for gas and insurance and maintenance; just because I live in that nice house doesn’t mean I can pay off my mortgage that got me the keys. I still need these things, whether I have the cash for them or not. Credit is my fiscal responsibility, right? No one forced me to take out a loan to go to college or have a home, right? No, not forced, but coerced nevertheless by that lust for class mobility. How else were some people going to do it? How were average people who pay more in taxes than General Electric going to make a life for themselves without a little debt? But it’s never just a little debt. It’s tens of thousands of dollars for that image of prosperity, plus 24.99% interest. Debt that investment bankers can “repackage”: bundle with a bunch of other people’s debt who may have less means to pay it off than you might have, and then allow other bankers to bet for or against these individuals paying that debt off. And what do I get out of this? Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. That’s how it is for the average person. Too bad. What a shame. Your bad.
Y’know what happened to Citigroup and Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs and AIG and so many other investment banks? The government stepped in. George W. and Congress said “you’re too important to our national image of prosperity to fail, even though the entire recession happened because of your own fucking mistakes; even though you convinced ordinary people to go into debt only to bet against them ever paying that debt off; even though average Americans will suffer for your crimes. We will bail you out. We will bail you out with the money they gave to us to help them build roads, schools, hospitals, police departments, firehouses. Hire teachers. Subsidize educations and new technologies. Pay for Medicare/Medicaid. Go to space.”
Do you not see the issue? Does it not anger you? Make you cry? You have made American citizens accountable for everything, and the plutocracy for NOTHING. Only Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were allowed to fail. Two prominent investment banks vs. millions of Americans, bankrupt, anxious, “over-educated and underemployed.” It’s the greatest heist ever: they used your commercially deposited money to rob your country AND your tax dollars to get away with it!
But it’s okay, right? You still have that Apple computer, right? You’re not impoverished. You’re in debt because you’re spoiled.
If you find nothing wrong with that, you are clearly delusional. We are the 99%. We are not delusional. We are suffering. We are angry. We want substantial change we can believe in AND change that WORKS for everyone in this boat. Continue policies that place more cargo on one side than another, and this ship will capsize.
If you want some bullet points as to potential solutions, Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times has provided some great ideas —
¶Impose a financial transactions tax. This would be a modest tax on financial trades, modeled on the suggestions of James Tobin, an American economist who won a Nobel Prize. The aim is in part to dampen speculative trading that creates dangerous volatility.Europe is moving toward a financial transactions tax, but the Obama administration is resisting — a reflection of its deference to Wall Street.
¶Close the “carried interest” and “founders’ stock” loopholes, which may be the most unconscionable tax breaks in America. They allow our wealthiest citizens to pay very low tax rates by pretending that their labor compensation is a capital gain.
¶Protect big banks from themselves. This means moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule to limit banks’ ability to engage in risky and speculative investments. Another sensible proposal, embraced by President Obama and a number of international experts, is the bank tax. This could be based on an institution’s size and leverage, so that bankers could pay for their cleanups — the finance equivalent of a pollution tax.