Wed Jan 18, 2012, 11:33 PM
marmar (63,335 posts)
More than Greed [View all]
More than Greed
By Steve Fraser
Age of Greed:
The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present
by Jeff Madrick
Knopf, 2011, 480 pp.
A new species of book has emerged to tell us about the financial panic and subsequent economic calamity that have befallen the United States (and much of the rest of the world). Some books zero in on a particularly dramatic episode like the spine-tingling final hours leading up to the decision to let Lehman Brothers go under. Others recount the rise or fall of some venerable banking house such as Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch and treat these commercial ups and downs as if they were the sagas of grand empires come and gone. Biographical variants gives us the inside dope on titans of finance, invariably men of obsidian hearts and egomaniacal will, undone by their global ambition. Yet another sub-species of this genre, of which Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed is an example, tries to combine story-telling and profiles of the rich and infamous with a survey and analysis of the whole sorry landscape of financial wilding and how its debaucheries came to be.
Melodrama and moral drama supply the oxygen for this new literature. So we have books called Age of Greed, The Greed Merchants, The Big Con, Zombie Capitalism, The Great American Stick-Up, Bad Money, The End of Wall Street, The Banksters, Griftopia. Most of these books share a story line about what happened. An excess of greed nurtured in the highest precincts of the country’s financial establishment and ignored, deliberately or negligently, by those public authorities charged with monitoring and reining in these out-sized appetites, led inexorably to the near terminal breakdown, whose after-shocks reverberate to this day.
Madrick puts the case succinctly: “It was the house of cards built on Wall Street greed, unchecked by Washington regulators, that created the nation’s credit crisis...and caused the most severe recession in the United States since the Great Depression. “ He makes explicit what is often the implicit assumption of this whole corpus; namely, that “the collapse was the product of decisions of individuals, set upon making fortunes and becoming one of the kings of the mountains, not the inevitable failure of a system.” There is a kind of drear optimism about this premise because it strongly suggests that heightened vigilance in the future—perhaps a code of strictly enforced blue laws to punish financial gluttony—can put things right again.
HOWEVER, A nagging question remains. No one can deny that in good times, and more appallingly even amid the economic disaster, the “banksters” have shamelessly laid claim to Mount Everest-sized piles of money. This has infuriated citizens across the political spectrum (although that fury has so far had a negligible impact on CEO take-home pay). But greed preceded capitalism and if capitalism puts greed on steroids (although also encourages its ascetic, frugal opposite in the interests of accumulation), well, that has always been the case. If there has been of late a sudden excess of that sin, one might wonder if greed gets to the root of our profound economic dilemma or whether instead it is the nature of that economic crisis that explains the excess of greed. .......(more)
The complete piece is at: http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=4101
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -- Nelson Mandela
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