What’s A Tarantula Without Its Sting?

Patrick Bateman: “I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust…I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

— ‘American Psycho’ (film) 

“FIGHT CORPORATE GREED!” is a popular slogan of the ‘We Are The 99%’ movement that began a month ago in New York’s financial district and is now popping up in hundreds of cities everywhere. For moral clarity and sheer zip-and-bounce there’s nothing to beat it.   The lively, drum-beating encampments validate a classic anarchist principle: it’s spontaneous, consensual, leaderless, non-violent.   With luck the movement will grow without the fatal burden of  takeover specialists a.k.a. ‘leaders’.

But fight corporate greed?  Just as easily resist the sun rising in the east.  Wall Street without its gut-instinct for cannibalizing is Abbott without Costello, a tarantula without its sting.  Top-level financial executives, traders, hedge-funders and bank directors can’t help themselves, it’s like their Tourette’s syndrome, you might as well cut off their oxygen supply, the harm they do us is built into the profit-at-any-cost system itself.

Absent enforced regulation, from such feeble money cops as the Securities Exchange Commission – which won’t happen soon – they simply do what comes naturally, take death-defying leaps with other people’s money and our lives.  We’ve come a long, long way since the original 17th century Dutch traders on ‘de Waal Straat’ made handshake deals under the Buttonwood Tree.

No surprise then, as reported in Der Spiegel, that two researchers at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, in comparing the profiles of 28 successful stock traders with an equal number of  diagnosed psychopaths, found that the brokers easily “outperformed” the crazies in terms of “reckless manipulation”.   Even at the risk of hurting their own profit margins, according to Dr Thomas Noll, a prison administrator, “they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.”

Movies show this best, like Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street’ and Mary Harron’s spectacularly on-target ‘American Psycho’ from the Brett Easton Ellis novel.  Its main character, the young Wall Street broker ‘Patrick Bateman’, as brilliantly played by Christian Bale, is a Frankenstein for our time, sadistically murdering innocents as a fashion statement but also as an logical extension of his daily, normal stock-trading practice.

“Greed is good!” Gordon Gekko famously declared in ‘Wall Street’.    Wrong.  He should have said, “Greed is necessary.”

Before Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which had prohibited savings banks from recklessly gambling in investments and insurance, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, from the 1890s Gilded Age on, Washington seemed to understand, and try to wrestle down, the systemic nature of Wall Street rapacity.   Hence, the Sherman and Clayton anti-trust laws.   And FDR blistering his own class of capitalists as “economic royalists” and “new mercenaries”.

Despite their public arrogance – Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs insists he’s “doing God’s work” –  Wall Streeters are nervous nellies, forever crying wolf  and prophesying doom at the merest suggestion of a regulatory law.   Obama’s mild endorsement of the ‘Volcker rule’, whereby banks must limit speculative investment, caused money men to go bananas.   Obama was the Devil’s spawn, a “socialist”, a secret Maoist.

Now, faced by OWS, Wall Street’s id, Glenn Beck, goes totally ape, warning “Capitalists!…they (the protestors) will drag us out into the streets and kill us.”   History tells us, never underestimate a money person’s capacity for violent self-delusion.   It’s a tradition.

In 1933, in an episode that’s faded into the haze of unproven conspiracy – but actually happened – Wall Street’s “princes of privilege”, as FDR called them, panicked at the prospect of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first election.  The country was mired in a Great Depression in no small measure created by Wall Street speculation.   A plague of joblessness, foreclosures, bankruptcies followed the ’29 stock market crash.   World War One veterans angrily marched on the Capitol demanding their promised bonuses.  Radicals of left and right were gaining huge, restless audiences.  In the eyes of the rich the country teetered on the edge of, gulp, revolution.   Worse from a rich man’s point of view, FDR took us off the sacred gold standard and began redistributing income to the poor via such “socialist” measures as the Reconstruction Finance Act and unemployment insurance.

At 23 Wall Street, then the headquarters of J.P. Morgan, a small elite group of over-exciteable “sound money men” conspired to bring down FDR and install a military dictatorship.  (This may be the basis of John Frankenheimer’s film ‘Seven Days in May.)  The intriguers were not fringe nutcases but ultra-respectable capitalists and, taken together, controlled more power and money than the U.S. treasury.  They included the heads of Du Pont, Morgan, Singer Sewing Machine, Baldwin Locomotive, Bethlehem Steel, the American Legion, a former presidential candidate, various admirals and generals, etc.

Their scheme made some sense.  They’d done research by dispatching a trusted employee, Gerald MacGuire, a J.P. Morgan bond salesman, to go to Europe and size up rising fascist movements with an eye to imposing such rule in America. MacGuire reported back that the key to Nazi and Fascist success was their ability to recruit disgruntled war veterans.   Super idea, thought the men at 23 Wall Street. Let’s get an American Hitler or Mussolini, with a charismatic war record, to organize veterans into a half-million-man ‘Khaki Shirts’ and march them down Pennsylvania Avenue and oust the Bolshevik in the Oval Office.

General Douglas MacArthur was the plotters’ first choice but he was loathed by ex-servicemen for leading a cavalry charge against the hungry Bonus Army and torching their families’ makeshift hovels at Washington’s Anacostia river.   So the J.P. Morgan fantasists – was it really a fantasy? – selected a real combat hero, Marine general Smedley Butler, twice winner of the Medal of Honor and much loved by the rank and file.

Big mistake.  Under his spit-and-shine Butler was a small d democrat with antifascist instincts (he’d almost been court-martialled for dropping an anti-Mussolini remark).  He went along halfway with the plot then got on a national radio hookup to denounce the conspiracy.  Scandal!  Outrage!  Page One New York Times.  A Congressional McCormick-Dickstein committee subpoened key players who fled the country rather than face questions.

Then the story vanished, overnight.  The best theory is that FDR, in the middle of a Depression crisis, figured that he needed his disloyal capitalists more than he wanted to prosecute them for treason.  The matter was dropped, squashed, covered up by its intended victim.

It’s often said that FDR saved capitalism from itself.  But today in the Marine Corps museum at Quantico, Virginia in a place of honor there rests the ceremonial sword of Smedley Butler who helped his commander in chief scatter the stinging tarantulas.

Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at clancy@jsasoc.com

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out