(for the other 95% of America)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Potter Over Bailey

Well, once again we made it through that time of year when the halls are decked with holly, the five golden bells are pealing, and the elves are waxing the skids so Santa can cruise through the skies, dispensing gifts to all the good little girls and boys. That means it was also time for a thousand re-runs of It’s A Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra film that manages to pull off a Yuletide hat trick by combining capitalism, communalism, and Hollywood hokum to save the day in small town Americana. Only this year it seemed that there was something smudgy around the edges of this particular charm. Americans have come to understand that instead of rescuing Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, we have rescued Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, the epitome of greed who drips venom instead of Christmas cheer.

How did it come to this? Rather than bail out the millions who are suffering foreclosures we bailed out those who perpetrated the fraud that led to the foreclosures. Rather than helping the needy and indigent, we are helping the coddled at the highest ends of the income bracket. Rather then reaching out a helping hand to the homeless, we have reached out a helping hand to those with multiple homes, sometimes so many that, like John McCain, they have lost count of how many they own.

We have been told by the wise sages of the economy that we had to rescue capitalism, that Wall Street would have imploded if we had not lent it a cool trillion, that those receiving taxpayer funds were deeply sorry about their financial transgressions, and that the mistakes of the past would be rectified once the money was handed over.

But doesn’t it seem a little odd that hardly any of the bullish free-marketers have acknowledged that something went drastically wrong with their foolproof system? Isn’t it true that those who most earnestly believe in the power and glory of the private sector to solve any and every problem are still acting as if the public has no right to meddle in their affairs?

Consider the following quotation from FDR inscribed on the Roosevelt Monument in Washington, D.C: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." We seemed to have flipped this credo over during the last thirty years, continually succumbing to an odd urge to ensure that the rich get richer and the poor poorer. We have waged wars while cutting taxes, an untenable economic feat completely unprecedented in its degree of foolhardiness. That such profligacy would lead to huge deficits is hardly shocking; what’s shocking is that it was done in the first place. As President Clinton once admitted, the only sacrifice the wealthy were asked to make for the war effort was to open up envelopes with their tax refunds stuck inside.

Meanwhile, the middle class is crumbling and the poor are being blissfully ignored, just as their numbers increase to startling proportions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for children under 18 rose from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent in 2009, while the total number of people living in poverty stood at 43.6 million, the largest number in the 51 years that such an estimate has been published by the Bureau. Yet the poor have no funds to pour into the coffers of our politicians so, while they may be pitied, nothing is done to ameliorate their condition.

Bank profits are soaring. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, net income for banks went from $3.2.billion during the first nine months of 2009 to $53.6 billion in 2010. During the same period, millions of Americans lost their homes through foreclosure. Potter is gleeful. And we seem intent on giving him even more. Meanwhile, George Bailey seems to have disappeared. Or maybe he fled, having realized that America is no place for him, not with its citizens intent on rewarding Potter over and over again while sending his borrowers out into the cold.

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