FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Washington-Wall Street Kabuki Dance

by SHELDON RICHMAN

When I watch the public furor over the ruling party’s attempt to “toughen” regulations on the financial industry, I get the same feeling I often have in a theater: Good show but it’s not real.

There’s something eerily ritualistic about the current occupant of the White House berating Wall Street for its irresponsibility and proposing new regulations, while his targets send a swarm of lobbyists to Washington to keep the regulatory overhaul from getting out of hand. (History says they’ll be on good terms with the regulators in any case.)

I’m reminded of the late great  Walter Karp’s book Indispensable Enemies. These apparent adversaries need each other.

This may sound outrageous. In what sense could it be said that the advocates of new financial regulation and the big financiers are on the same side? In this sense: Neither side would wish the other to disappear. Each is integral to the existing political economy (call it what you will), and neither would want it to change in any significant way. They are “indispensable ‘enemies.’”

Roderick Long has it right when he says,

“We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course it’s in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance — but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so it’s no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.”

We have a system that’s a mix of government and “private” control. (It’s not truly private because the control entails force-backed guarantees, barriers to entry, and the like.) But it’s an unstable mix. Sometimes those who want more formal government control get the upper hand, while at other times those who want more “private” control elect their people to office. So the mix can change. What doesn’t change is that some mix of the two will exist, as opposed to an unalloyed political economy based on freedom and free exchange. The battles are at the margin.

As Long writes elsewhere, the people who run the system con the public by portraying the marginal disputes as fundamental struggles. What’s really an internecine argument over where to move the line is represented as a monumental battle between Unfettered Capitalism and Enlightened Progressivism, or some such pair of misleading terms. Long writes,

“Corporate liberalism functions via a façade of opposition between a purportedly progressive statocracy and a purportedly pro-market plutocracy. The con operates by co-opting potential opponents of the establishment; those who recognise that something’s amiss with the statocratic wing are lured into supporting the plutocratic wing, and vice versa. Whenever the voters grow weary of the plutocracy, they’re offered the alleged alternative of an FDR or JFK; whenever they grow weary of the statocracy, they’re offered the alleged alternative of a Reagan or Thatcher. Perhaps the balance of power shifts slightly toward one side or the other; but the system remains essentially unchanged.”

This is why the alleged radical Barack Obama can be elected president and we still find economic policy in the hands of establishment “corporate liberals” Larry Summers, Tim Geithner,  Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, Ben Bernanke, and Robert Rubin. You could see it coming, though: Obama got more Goldman Sachs-connected money than John McCain in 2008.

There’s been some controversy lately over whether it is appropriate to call the Obama administration a “regime.” It’s appropriate in my view so long as you’re also willing to talk about the Bush and Reagan regimes. But what we really should be talking about is “the permanent regime,” the underlying system that endures despite changes in White House occupants.

If you have doubts about any of this, imagine some top Wall Street operator calling for elimination of the Federal Reserve System and the banking cartel it administers. Imagine him endorsing repeal of all federal and state banking regulations and their replacement with free banking and market-based money. Imagine him testifying on behalf of an end to all implicit guarantees, bailout promises, and the “too big to fail” doctrine. If you can’t imagine it you have begun to grasp the nature of the actual political economy in which we live.

The latest financial crisis cannot have had roots in the free market because no free market has existed in finance, banking, or housing for a very long time. Its roots rather are in the government-business management of money and banking, and the political agenda imposed on a willing mortgage industry (among other things). So prevention of another crisis can hardly be found in new regulation by unaccountable bureaucrats who will necessarily lack the knowledge required to modulate risk systemwide without stifling innovation and progress.

Wall Street acted according to the incentives generated by the corporatist political system. That’s why it’s so absurd for Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Andrew Cuomo (among others) to stand in judgment of Wall Street. They were principals in creating the incentives that made recklessness appear rational and even compatible with the political agenda being pursued. Yet they continue to occupy perches of power.

Wall Street’s blame lies not in behaving according to the incentives created by Washington – what should we have expected? — but in actively supporting a cartelized financial system that feathers its nest at the people’s expense while sheltering it from the disciplining gales of free and open competition. A coherent, sophisticated, and liberty-oriented populist response would consist of a repudiation of Washington and Wall Street.

SHELDON RICHMAN is editor of The Freeman magazine, where this piece also appears, a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, and author of Tethered Citizens. Visit his blog “Free Association“. Send him email: sheldon@sheldonrichman.com.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
Leslie Scott
Trump in the Middle East: New Ideas, Old Politics
George Wuerthner
Environmental Groups as Climate Deniers
Pauline Murphy
The Irish Dead: Fighting Fascism in Spain, 1937
Brian Trautman
Veterans on the March
Eric Sommer
Trumps Attack on Social Spending Escalates Long-term Massive Robbery of American Work
Binoy Kampmark
Twenty-Seven Hours: Donald Trump in Israel
Christian Hillegas
Trump’s Islamophobia: the Persistence of Orientalism in Western Rhetoric and Media
Michael J. Sainato
Russiagate: Clintonites Spread the Weiner Conspiracy
Walter Clemens
What the President Could Learn from Our Shih-Tzu Eddie
May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail