Looking beyond their needs to determine fault

It’s been several days and I’m still a bit gobsmacked by the perverse audacity of Herman Cain’s oddly lovely rendition of “He Looked Beyond My Faults.” Cain is the frontrunner in a Republican presidential primary characterized above all by the opposite impulse from what that song is about.

Amazing grace shall always be my song of praise,
for it was grace that brought me liberty;
I do not know just why He came to love me so,
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

I shall forever life mine eyes to Calvary,
to view the cross where Jesus died for me,
how marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul;
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

Cain is the frontrunner because of his capacity and his enthusiasm for looking beyond need to see people’s faults — or to invent faults even where none can be found. There’s a 1 percent-vs.-99 percent element to this dynamic. For the 1 percent, such as the bailed out banks and privileged millionaires like Cain himself, Dottie Rambo’s notion of “amazing grace” prevails and needs are met without any notion of accountability. For the 99 percent it’s the other way around — all accountability and blame, but no meeting of needs.

Rambo’s song is kind of a mashup of “Danny Boy” and Romans 5:8. Romans is a single extended argument and really doesn’t lend itself to the quoting of single verses outside of that context, but here’s the passage, which is familiar and beloved for many of us Christians:

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

The picture of grace there doesn’t fit easily alongside many of the dominant themes preached by our most vocal moralizers, particularly not alongside their ideas of economic morality. If that idea of grace is a cornerstone of one’s belief, as it purportedly is for us Christians, then how ever did we arrive at concepts like that of “the deserving poor” or its blasphemous counterpart, “the undeserving poor”?

This makes me think again of the foreclosure crisis depressing America’s housing market and kneecapping any hope for the kind of robust economic recovery that might bring us back to full employment. The clearest solution is straightforward and necessary, but it’s politically impossible due to our preoccupation with the idea that, at all costs, the “undeserving” among the 99 percent must be prevented from any measure of aid, security, restoration or protection.

Kevin Drum summarized this well:

Voters may say they hate bailing out the banks — and they do! — but they hate bailing out the profligate next-door neighbors even more. No politician in America seriously wants to risk voter wrath by doing that.

This is, in Dottie Rambo’s terms, a determined effort to focus on faults while ignoring needs. And it’s a particularly self-destructive form of resentment.

For most homeowners, their home is the largest single “investment” they have and it makes up the biggest share of their family’s savings. When, for whatever reason, another house on the block gets foreclosed, the value of that investment declines and those savings are worth less. When several more foreclosures hit the neighborhood, and dozens more hit the town, thousands more hit the state and millions nationwide, then the value of everyone’s home is reduced.

However much it may rankle some people to see their “undeserving” neighbors spared the morally instructive pain of foreclosure, that moral lesson costs us all a great deal to impart. Ensuring that the “undeserving” suffer means ensuring that everyone suffers.

This actually allows us to put a dollar figure on our collective indignation — or at least a napkin-math ballpark figure. The median price of an American home in March of 2007 was $262,600. Last November it was $213,000. So our resentment and unwillingness to assist struggling homeowners lest we accidentally help those we deem “undeserving” has cost each of us roughly $50,000.

Is the self-indulgent, self-righteous emotional kick we get from this really worth $50,000?

And that’s just the dollar cost. I couldn’t begin to guess how to measure the health costs of all the unnecessary stress we’re voluntarily subjecting ourselves to by dragging out the slow-motion train wreck of the foreclosure crisis — or by chasing the ever-diminishing high of self-righteous moralism.

It’s also, of course, not good for our souls. Sinful pride and disdain for the “undeserving” might just exclude us from that amazing grace that St. Paul wrote about and Herman Cain sang about. It’s just about the only thing the Bible says can exclude us from such grace. Time and again Jesus said that receiving grace cannot be separated from extending grace to others. Think of that terrifying bit in the Lord’s Prayer — “forgive us … as we forgive.” Or the parable of the unforgiving servant whose own forgiveness was thus revoked. Or this:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we must abandon any notion of accountability for our actions and the actions of others, or that we should dismiss every concern about “moral hazard” as an invitation to judgment. As always, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But it’s not so very complicated that we can glibly embrace a politics centered on the opposite of such reciprocal graciousness.

In our politics as well as the rest of our lives, we do well to look beyond faults to see needs. When we fail to do that, we cut ourselves off from the grace that looks beyond our own faults. And, more tangibly, we wind up trashing the value of our own homes as well.

 

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  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    My one-thousandth post!  Yahoo!  

    Is the self-indulgent, self-righteous emotional kick we get from this really worth $50,000?

    If someone says “yes” to that, am I allowed to kick their self-indulgant selves in a self-righteous way?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    So, I’m like 90% of the way there, but there’s a figure missing in the math here: supposing we just waved the wand of state and made all the foreclosures “go away”. Now, I’m fairly sure that if we did that, it would have a greater-than-zero impact on the value of homes. So the price of refusing to help the ‘undeserving’ isn’t really 262k-213k; it’s X-213k where X is what the average house price would have dropped to had we bailed out the homeowners. I can’t even start to figure out how to calculate X (Though I can guess that a libertarian would insist that X would be very low, such that X-213k was less than zero, because these are the same folks who insist that the laffer curve is a negative logarithm).

    That $50k figure is the price we pay *for having let the housing bubble happen in the first place*

  • Anonymous

    I fear it’s going to be our epitaph as a nation, that we’d rather saw off the branch we’re sitting on, than scoot over a tad to share it, during a flood no less. 

  • WingedBeast

    I’m an atheist, but I find no moral compunction in coopting a religious phrase.

    I’m changing this and I’m making this is both a moral and factual statement.

    “In so far as you do to the least of mankind, you do to yourself.”

  • Tonio

    If that idea of grace is a cornerstone of one’s belief, as it
    purportedly is for us Christians, then how ever did we arrive at
    concepts like that of “the deserving poor” or its blasphemous
    counterpart, “the undeserving poor”?

    I wonder if Fred may be overthinking this. Those two terms appear to be high-falutin’ updates of Southern Strategy euphemisms. Fred seems to assume that the originators of the terms began with some notion of Christian thought, however misguided. Certainly he’s on firm ground in using Christian principles to refute those concepts. But why not acknowledge that the originators were pandering to the hatefulness of people who believe whites to be industrious and non-whites to be indolent?

  • Daughter

    But why not acknowledge that the originators were pandering to the hatefulness of people who believe whites to be industrious and non-whites to be indolent?

    I’m not sure that’s true, Tonio. Back in the 19th century, post-millennial dispensationalism was the rage among evangelicals (ie, the belief that Christians had to create the Kingdom of God on earth first in order to bring about Jesus’ return)*.  This belief prompted many evangelicals to become actively involved in helping the poor, and the names of many charities today (the Samaritans, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.) reflect those roots.  “Deserving” and “undeserving” poor were terms coined at that time because they believed that people should be striving to improve themselves morally or religiously in order to receive help. 

    So the concept far predates the Southern Strategy.  It’s not unconnected, though.  Many of the poorest in the U.S. in the 19th century were immigrants, and while they were mostly European, anti-immigrantion prejudice fueled some of the idea of “undeserving.”

    ================

    * I believe post-millenialism died out after WWI, both because people became more pessimistic about the possibility of creating the Kingdom of God on earth, because of anti-communism, and because of the growth of anti-modernist fundamentalism. It was at that time that efforts to help the poor began to be sneered at among some (but not all) evangelicals as “social gospel.” 

  • Tonio

    Thanks for the background. My original point still holds, where the use of “deserving/undeserving poor” in politicaldiscourse generally amounts to an appeal to white resentment, by hijacking terms that originated in theological discourse.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Once again I feel compelled to point out that the insidious phrase and concept of the “undeserving poor” has a long history, including in cultures that are fairly homogenous in terms of ethnicity. The well-off in society have always been happy to look down on the poor and cast judgement on them; if the poor are a different racial group so much the better. But I still maintain that the origins are class-based with bonus racism thrown in where applicable, rather fundamentally racist sentiments recast as classism.

  • Anonymous

    For us, the value of our house has not been reduced by $50k. But then, our house is a condo, and we purchased it for $50k. A reasonable valuation would be somewhere between $70k and $100k. At the time of purchase, probably more like $70k.

    We bought it in a HUD foreclosure sale. HUD paid $100k to make the bank shut up at the sheriff’s sale.

    If I’m remembering the tax records right, the mortgage for the prior owner was something on the order of $150k. So whoever owned this place before us lost $50k when they walked away, in addition to losing their property. Given the state when we bought it, I suspect it was a rental, so I am not sure the owner lost their home… but someone was living here and did lose their home.

    Just in this condo development, I know of at least 5 foreclosures within the last year. It might be more like 8-10. Most of them have a similar story. And our area is not considered hard hit at all. People keep talking about how Madison is “immune” to the mortgage crisis. It isn’t.

    We don’t own a place because we’re hardworking and prudent. We own a place because our society decided to punish everyone, and we had the good fortune to be in a position to grab a crumb while everyone else was distracted.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Yeah.

    Let’s face it, folks, if I had $500k right now, at 1.00 USD = 1.01123 CAD which has held steady for a while now?

    I wouldn’t bother buying a house here. I’d snap up a distressed property somewhere, make sure it’s up to code, and then just live there the rest of my life. I’ve been hearing you can buy a full, nice-size 2-bedroom house with the works in the likes of Michigan for $150k.

    Suppose after all the works it’s $200k. Fine. That’s $300k left over, which, if managed prudently, would mean I wouldn’t need to work for ten years.

    Sweet deal.

  • Anonymous

    $300k would last you only ten years? High-roller. I bet I could stretch that out for the rest of my life.

  • Anonymous

    Figure on average 300k will earn 10% interest invested in stocks. (in the concrete, some years will be more like 15%, and others more like -5%) You’ll have to pay taxes of 20% currently, since that interest income counts as a capital gain. So you can’t realistically pull more than about 5% out each year, which is $15k. Chances are good that it isn’t enough for your household to live on, since that’s well below a minimum wage salary. And unlike a minimum wage earner, you have to cover your own health insurance, and you have to pay federal taxes, plus all the regular state and local taxes. There is no way I’d choose to be so house rich and cash poor. (unless maybe that $200k Invisible Neutrino was postulating was for something like a 4 flat on several bus lines?)

    And realistically, very few people have $300k in the bank, nevermind $500k. As part of their net asset value, maybe. Our plan worked because we had more than $50k in the bank, so we could give HUD an offer of actual cash. The only bank involvement was for wiring the funds. And it will take us a very long time to rebuild our cash reserves to a similar level.

    That’s why I say we were lucky. We’re not rich, not even close. But we had savings, and we had a clear idea of what sort of housing was worth grabbing in our area. And even so… the bubble has actively hurt us. We didn’t even try to get a mortgage, because we knew what the answer was. No credit history, a tenuous university staff job, and a small nest egg? That would have gotten us a very unfavorable mortgage, or no mortgage at all. 15 years ago, it would have gotten us an ok tho not good mortgage.

  • Apocalypse Review

    I’m assuming I’d like to travel a bit. ;) $30k a year for 10 years is pretty comfortable living, but there’s expenses.

  • Mr. Heartland

    “Is the self-indulgent, self-righteous emotional kick we get from this really worth $50,000?”

    I’ve just seen the video of that Texas judge beating his daughter and, Christ what a bastard.  But anyway, if you can somehow put your own horror in the back of your mind and actually focus on what’s going on here, you will be able to see the, I can only say honesty, of this mans thoughts and actions.  He is sincerely enraged, to be sure, but he is also I think quite sincerely terrified.  His daughter has just claimed the right to question his dictates and declare them wrong, as if he were just some person instead of The Father.  If she considers herself to be primarily herself, and only secondarily his daughter, then suddenly he is no longer alord defined by and living through his power over others, but just another mortal bag of bones like so many he sent to jail. 

    So anyway, in regards to this post, I would say that if one is sincerely convinced that to be superior and dominant is the only alternative to being helpless, humiliated, infantile; then any claim to being better than and entitled to punish —– isn’t worth $50,000.  It is priceless.  It is either everything or life is nothing. 

  • Jsyzygy

    The housing bubble didn’t collapse because people are heartless. It collapsed because it was a bubble. Bubbles are, first, evil in themselves (high house prices mean young people can’t get a house with a mortgage payment of <= 1/3household income so they can't live in the community in which they work or grew up so the community collapses from loss of young people) and, second, bound to collapse because of their Ponzi nature. The collapse causes lots of suffering. That's built-in. A collapse must happen and it must cause suffering; the bigger the bubble the greater the suffering.

    So it's wrongheaded to try to maintain the $264000 house at that level. It was overpriced. Trying to keep a bubble going is a colossal waste of money.

    So you should be thinking more along the lines of how to help families adjust to the drop in prices instead of propping the prices up. I don't know how to do that. Wiping out part of mortgage debt seems the most obvious although that means suffering to the mortgage holder which is probably some clueless pension fund that fast talking bankers unloaded garbage on. You could have the homeowner just stay in the house without paying the mortgage or only paying part of the mortgage in the hopes that this will cushion the blow by having it land more slowly; that actually seems to happen a lot but in an informal fashion that's terribly stressful for the homeowner because the banks pile on fees and can foreclose at any time.

  • Lori

      Wiping out part of mortgage debt seems the most obvious although that means suffering to the mortgage holder which is probably some clueless pension fund that fast talking bankers unloaded garbage on.   

    There was a lot of out right fraud involved in the way the banks sold mortgage backed securities. Enough that I think the clueless pension funds should be able to push the suffering right back onto the banks by basically demanding that they buy back the crap they lied to sell. 

    It’s absolutely true that there’s no painless way to deal with the deflation of a bubble, I just think we need to be concentrating the suffering where it belongs. To use currently popular terms, that’s on Wall Street not on Main Street. 

  • Don Gisselbeck

    For the predator class and their supporters the only possible reason for poverty is laziness. Laziness means unwilling to work under pure free market conditions. Unless their is a labor shortage, that means 90 or so hours a week for bad room and board, just like the glory days of the late 1800s. If there were a labor shortage, they would of course pass laws forcing wages down.

  • Tonio

    How much of the “get a job, ya bum” mentality expressed by Cain comes from fear as well as greed? I’ve read that during rape trials, women on juries are more, not less, likely to believe that the victim brought it on herself. The theory is that these women don’t want to admit to themselves that they could be raped as well.

  • Anonymous

    How much of the “get a job, ya bum” mentality expressed by Cain comes from fear as well as greed?

    I think there is definitely something to that.  If one makes an individual completely responsible for what happens to hir then it takes all randomness out of the equation.  It allows a person to think “I will never be like those people because I played by the rules: got a good education, saved my money, worked hard etc.”  I think there is probably also some just-world fallacy in there too.

    I’d always been curious as to what happens when someone who thinks like this finds hirself in a position of losing a job and not being able to get one.  Unfortunately, I saw it first hand in my family.  The answer is that it kills all self-esteem and sets up a really nasty internal battle between “I know I’m doing everything right” and “I must be doing something wrong because if I were truly deserving then I would have a job.” 

    It is also really hard to live with people who think like this when you’ve been looking unsuccessfully for a job for over two years.  Even when they *know* you’re not lazy, they still see you as a social parasite.  When you point out that there *are no jobs,* they blame the working class for being hostile to big business and essentially making job creation impossible.

  • Asdba

    I think that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. When a guy like Herman Cain says it, I think it’s mostly indifference — he honestly doesn’t care about the unemployed and is proud of it — but when other people who aren’t in his relatively privileged position echo that idea, I think it’s mostly because of the reasons you gave.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    It allows a person to think “I will never be like those people because I played by the rules: got a good education, saved my money, worked hard etc.”  I think there is probably also some just-world fallacy in there too.

    I think that is actually what is fueling a lot of the populist anger that is thrown behind OWS.  It is more a matter of “We played by the rules, did everything one is supposed to, and we got screwed over!  Then these other guys violated the rules, and they came out ahead!”  That is to say, the world has demonstrated itself unjust.  

    Now you have a culture of people who think that the world needs to be fixed so it is no longer unjust, and those who believe the world is just and fixing it would be unjust.  Of when a lot more of the former are suffering, the later’s argument seems a lot weaker.  

  • Anonymous

    This is along the lines of what I was thinking as I read this: it’s more than just self-righteous indignation that “somebody’s getting something I am not” (which happens all the time and happens on an unimaginable scale at the 1% level).  There’s a sort of magical thinking at work.  If you believe that by finding and naming the thing that you would never do or be – lazy, thriftless, profligate, you name it, that the person foreclosed on is totally responsible for their own misfortune.  Therefore, by simple math, since you would never do such a thing or be such a person, you must be safe, right?

    Right?

  • WingedBeast

    Or, as I put it in a previous post, the Magic Line Sociological Theory.

  • Lori

     How much of the “get a job, ya bum” mentality expressed by Cain comes from fear as well as greed? 

     

    Not every unpleasant thing that people do or say is driven by fear. Cain has enough money that it has become self-perpetuating so there’s no real reason for him to fear ending up like the unemployed. It’s possible that he still harbors an unrealistic fear of ending up poor again, but there’s no evidence for that. 

  • Kevin Alexander

    I remember a few years ago, just after Clinton’s health care plan went down in flames, a caller on talk radio said something like ‘The only thing you have to know about American politics is that there’s no cracker so shit poor that he won’t take the food from his own child’s mouth and throw it to some banker’s dog if you just plant in his mind the idea that some ni**er will get some if he don’t’

    Although he put it in racist terms he said something important about human nature. We have evolved along with our social animal cousins a deep seated visceral hatred of those who are worse off than ourselves. Baboons do it, dingos do it. There’s a gene for it. If you eliminate someone weaker than yourself you get to consume his share of the resources.

    Of course humans have the ability to transcend this. We also have what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Jesus is a good example, Fred is a contemporary example.

  • Anonymous

    That $50,000 was never really there to begin with, it was created by the housing bubble. Even if the losses were 100% due to our personal unwillingness to help foreclosed homeowners, which is not remotely true, this line of reasoning implies that any loss in asset value is a moral wrong done to the holder of that asset, which is so fundamentally wrong I find it difficult to explain coherently. Just to take one facet, a government policy to prop up house prices to 2007 levels amounts to a massive subsidy for banks, owners of jumbo mortgages, and investors, plus a smaller subsidy for the middle class, and harm (because prices would rise further) for those who don’t own houses or would possibly want to buy one at an affordable price, i.e. the lower and middle class. So it does the exact opposite of what Fred wants.

  • Lori

     That $50,000 was never really there to begin with, it was created by the housing bubble. Even if the losses were 100% due to our personal unwillingness to help foreclosed homeowners, which is not remotely true, this line of reasoning implies that any loss in asset value is a moral wrong done to the holder of that asset, which is so fundamentally wrong I find it difficult to explain coherently.  

    This is true, at least for the part of the problem that wasn’t created by fraud. The problem is that for years we’ve had to listen to endless repetition of the idea that those on Wall Street are creating wealth. We’ve given them huge amounts of perks and power and deference based on that wealth creation. When some of us pointed out that they’re not actually creating wealth (IOW, that $50k was never really there to begin with) we were told that we just don’t understand or we resent the rich or whatever. 

    The finance industry doesn’t get to use the exact same logic to take credit when things appear to be going well and fob off responsibility when things blow up. I believe the technical term for that is “bullshit”. If Wall Street is going to take the profits when they “create wealth” they need to also take the losses when their bubbles burst. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s absolutely true that there’s no painless way to deal with the
    deflation of a bubble, I just think we need to be concentrating the
    suffering where it belongs. To use currently popular terms, that’s on
    Wall Street not on Main Street.

    And here’s the crux of the matter.  How?  Any money you take from the banks they just extract immediately from their customers.

    Take Dodd-Frank – which limited swipe fees (which are basically the definition of rentier drains on the productive economy – so AWESOME.)  But then BofA just decided they’d charge $5 for the privilege of holding the debit card.  They’ve since backed off of that, but I would wager they’ll find some other way to make that money up somewhere else.

    Or see what happened with Harry & David – wherein the private capital firm that bought the company issued debt in the companies name (to save the company, natch.) – then wrote themselves a check for a large fraction of that amount, then had the company declare bankruptcy – they got to keep their check but the bondholders got left holding the bill.

    It sort of reminds of the Occupy Oakland general strike.  The basic theory of a strike is that the pain of a strike will be more concentrated on capital and more dispersed on labor.  If I product $5 a day, and capital keeps $1 from 100 works – a day of strike costs each worker $5 but costs capital $100.  The idea being that the workers can endure that smaller loss longer than capital can endure the larger loss.  But that’s not what happens now.  On the one hand capital can just reduce everyone’s wages to $4 the next day so he makes up his $100.  And if you don’t like it it’ll be $3 the day after that.   On the other hand – he’s sitting on a BIG pile of money so his ability to hold out is right about 343 times what the ability of the average worker to hold out is. 

    I often accuse people of tacitly arguing that we need either soviet-style regulations or a total reinvention of all of society because they are upset about things with no easy solution – and this is one of those time. The game is so rigged in favor of Big Money and Big Capital and the 1% that anything you do lands right back in your lap.

    The LEAST disruptive fix I can think of is to nationalize the finance industry, forcibly seize all or part of the assets of the top 1% and redistribute them and basically have banking be a government run sector like the post office (or now – the mortgage industry) for the next 10 to 15 years.  Let me say that I think that’s an absolutely terrible idea and will get every last person alive eaten by the unintended consequences monster – but at this point it seems like all the exits are block from the outside with giant piles of money.

  • Lori

     I often accuse people of tacitly arguing that we need either soviet-style regulations or a total reinvention of all of society because they are upset about things with no easy solution – and this is one of those time. The game is so rigged in favor of Big Money and Big Capital and the 1% that anything you do lands right back in your lap.

    The LEAST disruptive fix I can think of is to nationalize the finance industry, forcibly seize all or part of the assets of the top 1% and redistribute them and basically have banking be a government run sector like the post office (or now – the mortgage industry) for the next 10 to 15 years.  Let me say that I think that’s an absolutely terrible idea and will get every last person alive eaten by the unintended consequences monster – but at this point it seems like all the exits are block from the outside with giant piles of money.  

    So your solution is what? That we simply accept that nothing we do makes any difference and the 1% can’t be stopped from grabbing more and more and more? That we all just get comfortable with being serfs? Because that way eventually leads to serious bloodshed and I have to say, I’m not a fan.  

  • Anonymous

    Because that way eventually leads to serious bloodshed and I have to
    say, I’m not a fan.

    Me neither.  If I knew the answer (or had any idea of an realistic answer that differed from “burn the place down and build a new one”) I’d tell you – but every answer I come up with (“reinstate Glass-Steagal!”, “financial transaction tax”, “moving to a local bank” (which I did long ago.)) I can immediately see how I’m going to end up paying for it anyway.  I mean I can think of solutions (“confiscatory income tax and non-real-estate rent control”) – but they’re not realistic.  I can’t think of any realistically achievable medium or short term solutions – except storming the Bastille – which is only going to create new even more intractable problems than it solves.

    I’m concerned that car we’re all riding in has no working brakes.  Well – maybe it does, but we’ve mashed the accelerator into a blind curve for the past 30 years, and no matter how hard we push the brake pedal now, we’re not going to stop before we meet oncoming traffic.  Inertia’s a bitch.

  • Lori

     and no matter how hard we push the brake pedal now, we’re not going to stop before we meet oncoming traffic.  Inertia’s a bitch.  

    But why, in your opinion, is hitting oncoming traffic better than doing something radical like federalizing the banks? I understand if you think that’s not politically doable, but your earlier point was that it would be economically undesirable. More economically undesirable than a total meltdown? 

    I’m not looking for a solution that places all the pain on the 1% because I know that’s not possible. I do want them to feel some of the pain and right now they’re not at all. They’re crying like they’re being murdered—while they’re getting richer. The suffering needs to be spread around and the people who actually caused it need to be carrying a hell of a lot more of the burden than the people who are victims of it. 

  • Anonymous

    But why, in your opinion, is hitting oncoming traffic better than doing
    something radical like federalizing the banks?

    I guess I don’t think those two things are really that different?

    It’s more of a “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” scenario than anything else.  I actually think that federalizing the banks and confiscatory income tax rates on the very wealthy is a pretty good medium term solution.  I also think it’s basically a shortcut to a global social meltdown – because A) once you’ve done one utterly radical thing like that, the path to other radical things becomes a lot shorter.  B) I don’t think it would play out like we think it would – we’d find out most of the banks were empty because they’d moved all their assets to Antigua or something (thereby freezing credit markets… pretty much permanently) and

    Plus – “Wars are always fought for old men by young boys.” (Herodotus!) The threat of violence by the powerful against the weak is more like a historical fact than an actual threat – but witness what happened in Oakland or Denver, and imagine what would go down if we somehow found the political capital to federalize a 100 trillion dollar industry.

    I’m not calling for violence far from it – that’s the thing I want to avoid EVEN IF IT MEANS LIVING AS A SERF (since IMHO a violent revolution ALSO means me living as a serf, but a lot of people probably die to boot.) but my historical observation is that the status quo don’t take kindly to you making threats, son.

  • Lori

     I’m not calling for violence far from it – that’s the thing I want to avoid EVEN IF IT MEANS LIVING AS A SERF (since IMHO a violent revolution ALSO means me living as a serf, but a lot of people probably die to boot.) but my historical observation is that the status quo don’t take kindly to you making threats, son.  

    So living permanently as a serf is better than temporary violence and since nothing effective can be done that won’t lead to at least temporary violence we should all join you in settling in as slaves of our oligarch masters? 

    I take back what I said before. Compared to that I think I just might be a fan of violence because I would honest to FSM rather die fighting than live like that. Mileage varies and all. 

  • Hawker40

    Lori, I’m with you.  I didn’t raise my children to be serfs, or peasants.  I pray that violence won’t be needed.  But if it is, I will provide.

    “It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry, 1775, speaking treason.

  • ako

    Yes.  I want to try for a peaceful solution as much as possible, but I’m not going to give up on trying to do anything meaningful because there’s a possibility that it will end with violence.  There’s a possibility of increasing violence in a society that moves closer and closer to serfdom as well; it’s just more likely to be systematic violence perpetrated against the increasingly poor and desperate majority by the wealthy minority.  (And by the poor and desperate majority against people slightly lower down on the social ladder, such as women and children.)  If given a choice between the brutality of the entitled oligarchy and the brutality of the enraged mob, I’ll take the choice that might eventually create something better over the choice that’s only going to get worse over time.

  • Anonymous

    I know this is a long dead thread, but I’ll give my run down here so you all don’t think I’m just a big wimp.

    I guess I didn’t make myself clear – STARTING a violent revolution to avoid living as a serf is only going to lead to you living as a serf ANYWAY.  Witness nearly every “communist” revolution ever.

    I’m not saying you can’t defend yourself.  I’m not saying that violence is never the answer (as it has pretty effectively solved some pretty big problems.)

    I’m saying picking a fight with a race of immortal sociopaths with a lot of guns is a bad idea.

  • Lori

     But then BofA just decided they’d charge $5 for the privilege of holding the debit card.  They’ve since backed off of that, but I would wager they’ll find some other way to make that money up somewhere else.  

    They already have. They’re screwing people on their unemployment benefits. 

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/bank-fees-unemployment-benefits_n_1033700.html

    From the article:

     The big banks have actually figured out a way to make unemployed
    workers a profit center, one that only grows as things get worse,” said
    Angela Martin, executive director of Economic Fairness Oregon, a
    nonprofit advocacy group for low income and poor families. 

     

    The problem with Dodd-Frank is that what we needed was to reinstate the old regulatory framework, not put new, half-assed regulations in place. 

  • Apocalypse Review

    Take Dodd-Frank – which limited swipe fees (which are basically the
    definition of rentier drains on the productive economy – so AWESOME.) 
    But then BofA just decided they’d charge $5 for the privilege of holding
    the debit card.  They’ve since backed off of that, but I would wager
    they’ll find some other way to make that money up somewhere else.

    Capitalists are always fond of saying “You vote with your wallet!”

    Maybe it’s time to seriously take them up on that and move your money to a credit union. Make Dodd-Frank work by coupling the effect of government regulation with its shifting of the invisible hand.

    The best regulations don’t try to fight the invisible hand, they try to deflect it in a different direction.

  • Lori

     Maybe it’s time to seriously take them up on that and move your money to a credit union.  

     

    The effort to get people to do this is apparently having an effect. Apparently more people joined CUs in October of this year than in all of last year and there has been something like $4.5 billion added to CU accounts. I hope that trend continues because as far as I can tell taking the money is the only practical move that an individual can make to limit the power of the banks. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The free market has spoken, and it has said, “Screw this!  I’m outta’ here!”  

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The Occupy Everywhere people are VERY big on trying to get people to get their money out of the monster banks and into credit unions.  A few links here that might be helpful, and a cheering story.

    (Shameful confession – I’m leaving my bank account where it is for the sole reason that I can walk to that bank’s ATM.)

  • Anonymous

    My only regret about moving my account from Chase to an entertainment credit union back in April was that I can’t move it tomorrow on Bank Transfer Day. I’m trying to get my mom to quit her banks (she has BofA and another, smaller bank, I forget which), though.

    Well, honestly, I’ve been that irritating guy on Facebook who’s been trying to get everyone to quit their banks for some time now. Sadly, I don’t think I’ve converted anyone, despite a lot of my friends having access to great CUs either through their alma maters or through work.

  • P J Evans

    The LEAST disruptive fix I can think of is to nationalize the finance industry,

    I favor regulating them (asnd insurance companies) exactly like public utilities: their profits are limited, they have to do certain things to maintain competition, and they have to keep the documentation for what they’re doing in files for auditors, or they get socked with big fines. (Like $50,000 per day for each violation violation.)

  • Anonymous

    The only thing you have to know about American politics is that there’s
    no cracker so shit poor that he won’t take the food from his own child’s
    mouth and throw it to some banker’s dog if you just plant in his mind
    the idea that some ni**er will get some if he don’t

    Hell to the 1000 times yes.

  • Apocalypse Review

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/11/02/1032624/-He-has-a-right-to-speak,-said-the-cop-to-the-banker

    Watch how fast they try to get a law passed declarign that the area in front of a store is actually the private property of the store in question.

    Vancouver’s already effectively done that by saying you can’t be homeless within like 10 meters of a bank or the ATM of a bank. Conveniently that’s around when ATMs started getting put in for easy street access.

  • Lori

     Watch how fast they try to get a law passed declarign that the area in front of a store is actually the private property of the store in question.  

    Among other problems, that would make them responsible for maintaining it, lighting it and cleaning it. I’m not seeing that working too well. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. There’s been a huge sift of public to private space the last few decades and there’s no reason to think they’ll stop. 

  • Apocalypse Review

    Speaking of corporate chutzpah?

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111102/23363116605/warner-bros-right-after-announcing-record-profits-pleads-poverty-asking-people-to-support-grassroots-campaign-e-parasite-act.shtml

    There’s optics, and then there’s operating with smudged fucking sunglasses. It’s like nobody in a company even stops to think anymore before going ahead with something that will only benefit the company at the expense of others.

  • Les Elkins

    The idea that the $50K loss is from the top of the bubble is an important point, and it’s been discussed.

    But when talking about the federal government stepping in to prevent that loss I think there’s big point that’s unstated. I don’t know any way to do that save to pump $50K per house back into the market. So the choices to support that maximum price as I see them are

    a) tax every household an additional $50K to then spend on supporting their house prices, or
    b) borrow $50k per house, effectively making the homeowner’s kids responsible.

    (“b)” seems to have been more the approach of the federal government in my adult life…. I don’t have kids, so strictly speaking it’s no skin off my nose, but it makes me very, very uncomfortable.)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    (Annnnd… I got ninja’ed.)

    On the violence vs. nonviolence thing, I’m nonviolent for two big reasons:

    1:  The Predatory Classes KNOW how to crush peasant uprisings.  If we give them an excuse, the resulting lockdown will make the post-9/11 madness look like a day at the beach.
    2:  “I’m not a pacifist, sir!  I’m a coward!” – M. Python.  :D

  • Lori

     1:  The Predatory Classes KNOW how to crush peasant uprisings.  If we give them an excuse, the resulting lockdown will make the post-9/11 madness look like a day at the beach.  

    And yet peasant uprisings have been successful in the past. The American labor movement was essentially a peasant uprising. Some very poor people got sick of being abused and worked into early graves and seeing their children die young, so they decided to fight. Pretty much everything that has made life livable for the not-rich for the last 100 years is a gift from people who were willing throw down when it came to that. 

    It’s not just that I have no desire to live as a serf. It’s also that it’s against my principles to disrespect the sacrifices those people made, from which I have benefited every day of my life in one way or another, by categorically refusing to follow their example if that’s what it takes to hold what they bled and died for.

  • Tonio

    I
    have one thing to say to everyone switching from for-profit banks to
    credit unions – what the hell took you so long? I’ve belonged to credit
    unions since high school, and haven’t had an account at a for-profit
    bank since college.

  • http://twitter.com/fancyflyting AE Lopt

    I probably shouldn’t make my first comment after most of a bottle of two buck chuck but:

    I was considering the magical thinking aspect of “I’ve played by the rules, so nothing terrible will happen to me, if something bad happened to x they must’ve done something wrong, and since I’ve never done no nothing clearly nothing bad will happen to me” and it’s a very solid explanation for a lot of behavior, including much of my own, but what struck me was that in a money context it might transform once you get past illusion-of-safety levels of wealth and into ludicrously-excessive-I-may-buy-myself-a-giraffe levels of wealth to “I have so much, and therefore I must’ve done lots of somethings right; if I have all this, it can only be because I deserve it.”  Bad things happen to the undeserving, and so if you’ve got a few extra servings, clearly you’ve been astonishingly good, and that reinforces the obvious fact that bad things happen to the undeserving, because it wasn’t all that hard to be as incredibly good as you must’ve been, so they must not be trying at all if they can’t even afford a Wii.

    And that’s my explanation for Herman Caine.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One thing that needs to get off the ground more is the Tobin Tax, or some other form of control over capital flows. Sadly, Canada has been one of the lead pushers against attempts to control capital flows, even when Chretien was Prime Minister, because his Finance Minister, Paul Martin, has always been beholden to the very wealthy in Canada (he was the first Finance Minister to have to put all of his holdings into a blind trust (!!), for example), and Stephen Harper is certainly no friend to the poor, for all that the Conservatives try hitting some populist hot buttons every now and then.

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Western Europe implemented cooperative controls over capital flows and did so even over US objections to doing the same. It’s not impossible for small nations to impose such controls. Malaysia is the most famous example in the 1990s, and Iceland recently had to slam down controls over capital flows.

    However, until the USA gets serious about implementing such controls, most other nations will happily refuse to do anything more substantial than talk up a good game about the Tobin Tax every once in a while.

  • Lori

     I know this is a long dead thread, but I’ll give my run down here so you all don’t think I’m just a big wimp.  

    I don’t think you’re a wimp. I think you and I have very different perceptions of both history and the relative weight that should be given to quality vs quantity of life. Those are perfectly legitimate differences. 

    I guess I didn’t make myself clear – STARTING a violent revolution to avoid living as a serf is only going to lead to you living as a serf ANYWAY.  Witness nearly every “communist” revolution ever.  

    I think you’ve chosen an odd subset of revolutions as your sample. Either that or you’re labeling historic revolutions in ways that I find odd. If what you were saying was accurate we’d all have been serfs all along and yet, no. 

  • Anonymous

    “So your solution is what? That we simply accept that nothing we do makes any difference and the 1% can’t be stopped from grabbing more and more and more? That we all just get comfortable with being serfs? Because that way eventually leads to serious bloodshed and I have to say, I’m not a fan.”
    I think he’s just saying he wants serious bloodshed now.  Which I can sorta sympathize with, although I’m personally entirely too close to the vicinity of the 1% to endorse that…
    “Among other problems, that would make them responsible for maintaining it, lighting it and cleaning it.”No it wouldn’t.  You can let your private property go to rot, if you want.  And we all know that they’d still get public funds for maintenance anyways.  Privatize the profits, publicize the expenses…
    “Plus – “Wars are always fought for old men by young boys.” (Herodotus!) The threat of violence by the powerful against the weak is more like a historical fact than an actual threat – but witness what happened in Oakland or Denver, and imagine what would go down if we somehow found the political capital to federalize a 100 trillion dollar industry.”Trillion dollar industry or not, where are Wall Street’s divisions?
    “I’m not calling for violence far from it – that’s the thing I want to avoid EVEN IF IT MEANS LIVING AS A SERF (since IMHO a violent revolution ALSO means me living as a serf, but a lot of people probably die to boot.) but my historical observation is that the status quo don’t take kindly to you making threats, son.”Related to an observation made on another website, this is what despair looks like.
    “because A) once you’ve done one utterly radical thing like that, the path to other radical things becomes a lot shorter.  B) I don’t think it would play out like we think it would – we’d find out most of the banks were empty because they’d moved all their assets to Antigua or something (thereby freezing credit markets… pretty much permanently).”Freeze their assets *first*.  Or just ignore them taking their data and running – Wall Street types aren’t exactly known for producing great material wealth.  All they generally have is paper money and yachts, so all you actually lose is some ‘capital’ that’s no longer actually worth anything (because it doesn’t have any assets to back it.  The execs can go have fun in Hong Kong, if they want, it’ll only cause a bit of deflation for the rest of America).
    “1:  The Predatory Classes KNOW how to crush peasant uprisings.  If we give them an excuse, the resulting lockdown will make the post-9/11 madness look like a day at the beach.”How much is it that soldiers get paid nowadays?
    “I’m saying picking a fight with a race of immortal sociopaths with a lot of guns is a bad idea.”Immortal sociopaths with a lot of guns that don’t actually exist.  Also, I don’t know of any corporate armies that are actually worth much of anything…


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