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Pity the Fools?

Stiglitz’s Foolishly Flawed Morality


Many life times ago, I learned the hard way the difference between “smart” and “intelligent.” That is, I learned from experience. The ‘hip’ young woman who walked alone late at night through a low-income neighborhood undergoing gentrification, could only think, “but I am with you!” while being spun to the pavement by three hooded youths intent on stealing the purse she unwittingly clasped to her chest. She knew a lot of facts and theories about economic discrimination, racism, and poverty. She cared a lot about the victims of social inequality and political oppression. She was not smart, not street smart at all.

The other thing I learned a long time ago, about being smart vs. intelligent, is that “class bias” can have a very strong impact on both. “Class bias,” among the intellectually elite can so limit their world perspective that it blinds them to material reality, and justifies any theoretical view, or myth, that serves to preserve their privileged status. The consequences of this phenomenon can also be alarming and violent for those who share a different class bias.

For example, in his recent article entitled “The Economic Crisis: Capitalist Fools,” Nobel-laureat economist, Joseph Stiglitz, provides a simplistic and superficial description (for us dummies) of the kinds of speculation, gambling, inflation of worthless paper, and fraudulent accounting, his friends and colleagues knowingly indulged in (a rerun of what we have all read in our local newspapers over past weeks); and chalks the whole affair up to naiveté on the part of his fellow economists, bankers and bureaucrats. (Hey, he tried to tell them!) We can’t blame those billionaire buffoons and their lackeys for their profoundly stubborn “belief” in the wrong economic theories.

Forget the fact that the “mistakes” made by Stiglitz’s long-time acquaintances in the financial Mafioso left them holding millions and billions of dollars in assets, while the low and moderate income wage-workers they used and abused lost savings, retirement funds, jobs and homes. We are suppose to believe that these financial wheelers and dealers, and the government politicos who enable them, are so dumb, they didn’t know they couldn’t keep swapping inflated, worthless pieces of paper, in a multitude of international disguises, forever. These ignorant, misguided financial high-rollers were not only assured that the taxpayer/government would have to bail them out regardless of the consequences of their criminal behavior, but that they would also receive Trillions of Dollars to use as they see fit, without any oversight as to how they spend our money! Unlike the old-fashioned conman on the corner with his ponzi scheme and shell games, they knew darn well that when the hoax was up, they wouldn’t need to flee the law or explain anything to the cops. With all their cover-ups and manipulations of other peoples’ money (and more often, nobody’s money), they bought and sold “securities” they often didn’t own, with money they didn’t have; and now no one has any record of who really owns what, or how much any of those bundled unredeemable loans are really worth. They were out to make the big bucks, and did not care who got hurt in the process, as long as they got theirs.

Stiglitz’s excuses for the vulgar, ruthless behavior of his many professional acquaintances seems intended to make us pity them. After all, he says, they like the rest of America (“and much of the rest of the world”) are only guilty of having embraced a “flawed economic philosophy.”* His apologia contains much Vanity, and no recognition of what is Fair!** It also reveals not even a little bit of understanding of the ongoing, decades-long downturn in the “real economy” which precipitated conditions that make glitzy “bubbles” and wild financial manipulations so attractive to profit-seeking capitalists. Stiglitz and his friends are smart for sure.

*See my previous article on Alan Greenspan’s supposedly failed ideology (“Greenspan’s Higher Power,” Counterpunch, October 27, 2008)

**It seems perversely appropriate that Siglitz should debut this particular argument in a magazine whose name connotes ostentation, and empty, idle amusement and frivolity (Vanity Fair, January, 2009).

MARY LYNN CRAMER has dedicated twenty-five years to low paying "applied economics," working as a bilingual social worker with families and children. She has degrees in economic history, economic theory and social work. She can be reached at mllynn2@yahoo.com.