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Parasites

by redstar Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 05:41:50 AM EST

"Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."

Alan Greenspan, Letter to the Editor of the NY Times, 1957, in defence of Ayn Rand's  seminal work of ressentiment, Atlas Shrugged

I never thought I'd agree with Alan Greenspan on anything, ideologically speaking, until earlier this week. As the chief practitioner and high priest of Anglo-American, so-called "laissez faire" Capitalism, the great oracle of Objectivist Social Darwinism stood for everything which was wrong with first England, and shortly thereafter America, beginning in the late 1970's. The ideology he represented, rightfully seen as the reactionary, hateful musings of a bitter bourgeoise émigrée from the Soviet Union back when they were first published fifty years ago (Mr. Greenspan's letter, excerpt reproduced above, was in response to a NY Times book review critic who rightfully opined that Atlas Shrugged was "written out of hate"), has done more damage to human progress in the West than any other ideology in the post-war period.

Bubbles from the diaries - afew


But, I have to say, when he admitted it was time to pull the plug on the Anglo-American banking system and nationalise them all, I started to agree with him for once. Not on nationalisation; while I've always been in favour of permanent State ownership of the means of allocating Capital,  Mr Greenspan only wants to do so temporarily, thereby socialising the losses all the while re-capitalising the profits once the State, fundamentally regressive in fiscal and social policy matters as it is in America, takes disproportionate sums of taxes from the less well off to bail out the wealthy yet again. No, it was a little more complicated than that.

Whenever I think of Greenspan, that quote he is famous for, reproduced above, comes to mind. Especially the part about "parasites," (and here, we all know to whom Mr Greenspan is referring...it is of course the lesser of our sisters and brothers, those to whose lot fortune was at best indifferent, at worst, encouraged by people like Mr Greenspan to be further debased). This is underlined by his casual treatment of the station of the weak, his invocation of the word perish adding an exclamation point, if one were necessary.

So, when Mr Greenspan started to admit that the Sorcerer's Apprentice-like degeneration of the Capital markets would require nationalisation, it wasn't the word nationalisation with which I found common cause; after all, the content of his ideal is still far far different from those who believe as I do in the equality of access to Capital.  No, the words I heard ringing in my head, prompting agreement, were those reproduced, above, specifically, that it is time that the parasites perish.

But who are the parasites? Here in Europe, we need not look too far, to the UK, where Lord Goodwin continues to suck $1M/year from the public coffers, a reward for having stolen billions  via the bank he steered into the ground, prompting taxpayer-financed bailout totalling £13 bn to date.

Even on our side of the channel, we are not immune, though our perpetrators have at least a good sense of propriety when faced with the results of their misdeeds.

Over in America, finding parasites is like shooting fish in a barrel. Robert Rubin who, as Clinton's Treasury Secretary, drove the deregulation which directly caused this mess and, once back in the private sector at Merrill Lynch, made tens of millions from it before his bank started taking billions from US tax payers to bail out the bank whose failure he helped bring about. President Clinton may have called Mr Rubin "the greatest treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton," but for posterity, we all know what Mr Rubin is: a parasite.

Or John Thain, whose theft and malfeasance were even egregious, more outlandish than most, as he helped Rubin drive Merrill Lynch into the ground.

Or Richard Fuld, who stole his millions at the failed Lehman Brothers, busily protecting his ill-gotten assets as any thieve would: by all means necessary.  

Or Mr Greenspan himself, who demonstrates, with that one pithy quote, that when the Capitalist engages in describing the parasitical, he or she in fact knows the subject well. A more appropriate example of the concept of projection there never was.

And it is indeed time that they, or more specifically, their reactionary,  elitist ideals, for far too long animating principles of the countries in which most of us live, in fact it is far past time, that they perish.

And as for their persons, of course, the world has evolved. Try as they might, the Social Darwinists who brought us this mess were never able to turn us back to the days when we would have tarred or feathered (or worse) those who robbed us blind. But a little jail time sure wouldn't hurt. In a prison without a golf course, preferably.

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It's a long and funny story involving a boat, the Caribbean and more than a tonne of marijuana, but my cousin actually did time in that prison Forbes is profiling...
by redstar on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 01:25:47 PM EST
It has always struck me as ironic that those who actually produce nothing, but who make fortunes trading the output  of productive workers - should be the first to espouse the work ethic and to decry real workers as lazy, indolent parasites.

I'm not saying people in the financial services industry don't work, and don't serve a productive function, but given that they don't actually produce wealth directly, they sure as hell know how to appropriate a hugely disproportionate portion of it.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 01:36:19 PM EST
Frank Schnittger:
given that they don't actually produce wealth directly, they sure as hell know how to appropriate a hugely disproportionate portion of it.

That's because appropriating wealth is the only kind of work that matters.

Merely producing it is what the disposable slaves are for.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 05:33:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't, for the life of me, come up with an explanation for why we need most of what goes on in the financial centers.  Stock exchanges -- yeah, okay, I "get" those.  But financial "innovation"?  No, not so much.  There are areas of finance that I can accept as good and necessary, but much of it is just horseshit.  And toxic horseshit at that.  I'm thinking of (say) the local financial planner who advises people on where to put their money to save for their kids' college tuition payments or retirement vs the guy peddling mortgage-backed securities at Lehman or CDOs at AIG or something.  The former is, I think, a worthy profession.  The latter is clearly, at best, almost useless; and, at worst, incredibly destructive.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 07:48:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm glad to hear you say this, for some reason.  It all strikes me as so unnecessarily complicated.  I am currently doing some research and a side line has to do with a very "simple" financing scheme involving stock issued in order to put up a building about 110 years ago.  I still don't totally understand it, but it seems like it could be understandable if I beat my head against a wall a few times and maybe talk to a couple of people who know about these things.   Those were the good old days, I guess.
by jjellin on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 11:22:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has always struck me as ironic

Not so much ironic as baldly logical? Some people have to be kept at work, even for less than a living wage, to keep the real revenue streams flowing on which the financial world builds its money-spinning house of leveraged cards.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
those who actually produce nothing, but who make fortunes trading the output  of productive workers - should be the first to espouse the work ethic and to decry real workers as lazy, indolent parasites.

What I find striking is the vehemence with which they deny the importance of those on whose contributions they depend. It is as if, having subconsciously acknowledged their fundamental parasitism, they need to repress it absolutely.

Maybe they're not as proud of what they do as they pretend.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:53:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Randyans are claiming that sales of Atlas Shrugged are soaring with the crisis. The best utopia ever?
by das monde on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 04:12:25 AM EST
</flower cartoon>

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:21:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]

From Bob the Angry Flower

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 05:48:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Atlas Shrugged, it's happening in real life...

LOL

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 05:57:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OTOH, the same is being said about Marx.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 05:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We can only hope that people are re-evaluating both Rand and Marx and that they will draw reasonable conclusions as to their relative worth.  But I dream.

I am less inclined to blame Ayn Rand than her audience.  Her work dropped like a seed into fertile soil.  Why that is the case is a profoundly interesting question in social psychology--one which I, unfortunately, am not well equipped to answer.  We need a successor to Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, (Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, respectively.)

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 01:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I popped into the Ayn Rand fanboy club and found this:

...there are uncanny similarities between the plot-line of the book and the events of our day" said Yaron Brook, Executive Director at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

I daresay.

Except that the source of our problem is that the real looters have convinced themselves, and the entire financial press, that they are all Hank Reardens . Whereas, in fact, they are much more like Cuffy Meigs.

It's difficult to find a really a good example, because Ms. Rand's villains are badly drawn, unconvincing, childish cartoons, even more so than are her heroes, if that were possible.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 09:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]

From the Economist:


Whenever governments intervene in the market, in short, readers rush to buy Rand's book. Why? The reason is explained by the name of a recently formed group on Facebook, the world's biggest social-networking site: "Read the news today? It's like `Atlas Shrugged' is happening in real life". The group, and an expanding chorus of fretful bloggers, reckon that life is imitating art.

Some were reminded of Rand's gifted physicist, Robert Stadler, cravenly disavowing his faith in reason for political favour, when Alan Greenspan, an acolyte of Rand's, testified before a congressional committee last October that he had found a "flaw in the model" of securitisation. And with pirates hijacking cargo ships, politicians castigating corporate chieftains, riots in Europe and slowing international trade--all of which are depicted in the book--this melancholy meme has plenty of fodder.

melancholy meme... barf.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 05:51:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My father once remarked that everyone he ever met who praised Rand's works had read them at a young age - early 20s at the latest - and never thereafter.

His thesis is that no one who reads them with a mature mind can find them aught but drivel.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 06:44:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have a perspicacious father!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Mar 2nd, 2009 at 07:40:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps the apocalypse script is that simple: follow Rand, and other Nostradamusi classics.
by das monde on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 09:45:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I take it you mean the "state" to be that ancient concept of a democratic government and not the current state of supranational corporations which own/operate above governments.

In this case "nationalization" merely completes the elite's ownership of their respective peasant populace.

by Lasthorseman on Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 06:24:47 PM EST
That quote is great! Harsh but great.

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none." (Fahrenheit 451)
by pereulok on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 06:03:32 AM EST

The "efficient" balance-sheet can be a disorderly death sentence.

From the Economist, which explained:


The intellectual fashion has been for companies to have "efficient" balance-sheets. If cash is not immediately needed to reinvest in the business, it should be handed back to shareholders, who can use it more profitably elsewhere. Hoarding cash for a rainy day was seen as a failure of executive imagination.

And the title: companies make a fashionable mistake. But markets are always right, no?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 06:31:05 AM EST
Yeah, it's funny how people who claim to live by the market are so averse to dying by the market...

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 06:40:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's nothing wrong with markets: it's returns to rentiers that is the problem.

Returns to rentiers are simply inefficient, because funding can in fact come from other productive stakeholders. This is the Cooperative Advantage of a Not for Loss "Social Business" model as Dr Yunus calls it.

I think current capitalism is about to be hoist by its own petard. The mechanism will be the pervasive spread of P2P Finance, and there will be a transition from banking as credit intermediation to banking as service provision.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 07:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Single bankers and CEO's are still, i believe, the small fish. The big fish is the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector. In principle all paid interests, insurances and rents are payments from the real economy. How much there is really useful in those sectors? And how much do they earn? It is IMO quite clear that neoclassism -liberalism tries to inlate especially these sectors in economy.
by kjr63 on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 07:24:19 AM EST
The utility bit is useful (payments systems, lending for basic economic activity and productive investment, life & damage insurance, traditional mortgages) - and it's actually reasonably easy to regulate. It's just that we've had 30 years of ideology that's against regulation, even of the borign bits, and that's been keen to blur the line between the utility bit and the more speculative bits of the business.

And then you have the push to make pensions market-based, and to have all human activity evaluated (valued) by market analysts.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 07:41:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is kind of the idea, that these sectors are actually the ones who are behind or actually create the wealth. When in fact, i believe, they are mostly pretty useless. Very much kind of "parasites". I cannot see how regulation here could do any harm to the real economy. Investment banking, i believe, is a good idea, but they should be kept far away from real estate, mortgages etc. These sectors should be heavily controlled, even government business.
by kjr63 on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 10:39:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary.
How wonderful to see that nasty woman's work summed up as "ressentiment."  And the toad Greenspan, too.  As Noam Chomsky has written, "The intellectual history of our era, when it is written, will scarcely be believed."

That this self-satisfied hack and his huckster cronies on Wall Street are idolized by so many, particularly in the media, is remarkable.

by cambridgemac on Sun Mar 1st, 2009 at 05:09:37 PM EST


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