Sunday, February 21, 2010

Goldman Stacks

Like the American Dream, Joe Stacks went up in smoke. The only difference is that in the case of Joe Stacks it happened quickly and he was soon forgotten; in the case or ordinary Americans, the dream disappeared slowly, leaving in its wake a landscape of unawillingvoidable sorrow.

Except on Wall Street, where the ethics of P.T. Barnum has melded with the work product of the U.S. Census Bureau. There are thousands of we suckers born every minute in the United States, and we're willing to pay through the nose to bailout scam artists in pin-stripe suits.

Mike, over at Crime and Federalism, featured a recent article from Rolling Stone about the bailouts. It mis must reading. Link here:

The piece is a searing indictment of an industry sated with cash and accountable to no one. Just a year after massive federal bailouts that will saddle a generation of Americans with new government debt, Wall Street's big boys are back at the bonus trough. And they're still bundling risky securities knowing full well that they are too big to fail.

All of which has me wondering: Did Joe Stacks choose the wrong target when he became America's latest suicide bomber?

I'm no fan of big government, but, let's face it, picking on a couple of hapless IRS workers hardly makes a point. Sure, paying taxes is onerous, and once you fall behind, playing catch-up is difficult. But like it or not, government is a necessary evil. Sniping at IRS agents is really blaming the messenger.

The real puppeteers aren't in Washington. The master manipulators -- the masters of the unviverse to use Tom Wolfe's memorable phrase from Bonfire of the Vanities -- are the big boys on Wall Street. These are the fellows loaded with cash and prepared to spend anything, and seemingly do anything, to retain power.

While many Americans are walking away from homes that are "under water" or are trying to stave off foreclosure, the fat cats at Goldman Sachs are sitting on billions of dollars in new bonuses. This just after begging Congress for a bailout. While you count your pennies, they weight your dollars. It's obscene. Why didn't the bail out simply result in a write down on mortgages for homeowners? That would have eased the debt load of ordinary Americans, freeing up capital to invest. Instead, we chose to make mortgage slaves of the middle class. What genius thought this consistent with visions of a good society? Latifundia anyone?

The Stacks story has disappeared from the media almost as quickly as the flames from the small plane he crashed into a federal office building in Austin were doused. But the frustration and anger of folks whose dreams have been siphoned off by double-dealing tycoons on Wall Street still smoulder. If Stacks had it to do all over again, I wonder whether he would target the IRS.

I may not like paying taxes, but I like roads, libraries and national parks. These things add value to my life. But when I look at the interest my bank makes each month on my mortgage I really wonder what I am getting for my money other than the vicarious satisfaction of imagining the kind of cigars they smoke at Goldman Sachs.