Sunday, August 07, 2011

The hamster might be dead, but the wheel just keeps on spinning...

The Wall Street Journal is a snake dining on its tail and never more so than in the editorial on why we should all ignore the ratings downgrade of US public debt.

Their conclusion is correct--we should ignore the down grade.  If we had ignored their grading of private debt (e.g., mortgage backed securities) our 401(k) accounts and the institutional investments of states and pension funds would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% stronger and the unemployment rate would be 4-6% lower.  Perhaps the Wall Street Journal should have given us this advice when all three ratings agencies were stamping AAA ratings on those junk securities.   Late to the party, they were.

Everyone knows--or should know- how the craven corruption of these ratings agencies was an indispensable  element in the process of looting our economy throughout the last half of the Clinton administration and all of the Bush/Cheney era.  It could not have happened if these agencies didn't make immense profits lying about the AAA safety of the CDOs, CDSs, CP3Os and whatever other "securities" are now lining bird cages and wrapping fish.  These three ratings agencies, although they were extorted into it by the banks who told them--literally--that if they didn't give up the big AAA one of their competitors would get the fee for doing it.  But they knew what they were doing.  They decided to be accomplices--accessories, as it were, before and during the fact.  These agencies  were as important in this massive criminal fraud as a gun is to a bank hold up.  (guns, on the other hand, don't have ethical codes--but, then, they don't need them.)

So give the Wall Street Journal credit for seeing--if too late for our economy--that the rating agencies are worthless parasites, public relations firms for grifters, at best.

But the Wall Street Journal completely runs off the rails when it says in this editorial that the best way to rate the safety is...wait for it...what's the best way to value everything?  THE MARKET!  The market, of course, that was led by the ratings agencies, Standard and Poors among them, right off of the cliff with mortgage backed securities (and the tech bubble and...I digress).

I have to give a cynical nod to people who can see reality diverge from their ideology on a daily basis and still hold onto it.   Like members of a cargo cult, having built mock-up airplanes in the expectation that supplies will be delivered, The Wall Street Journal is still promising us that the tax cuts we have delivered to the "job creators" at the top of our economic food chain are the best--the only--job creation strategy worth pursuing. They keep saying this while wasting away, we are, in our own little Hoover-villes.

Tax cuts for job creators will create jobs?  We have irrefutable quantitative evidence to the contrary from our era and eras past but The Wall Street Journal says we should pay no attention to that because "tax cuts equals more jobs is just common sense."  ideology shapes reality, at least on the editorial page, of the Wall Street Journal, like--in fairness--it does most every where else one looks in the "news" and among those who make it.

Here's something that is apparently not common sense:  THE MARKET snapped up those fraudulent mortgage backed securities that were rated AAA by all three rating agencies, and snapped them up by the bushel basket full.   When the karma turned bad and the defaults started happening on the underlying mortgages it became clear (again) that THE MARKET is predominated by greedy wishful thinkers (like us)  who largely make decisions based on what is most convenient and in our short term interest--and what most everyone else is saying is "common sense."

This is not rocket surgery and I'm not (as those of you who know me personally can testify) all that smart to know it .  it's our human/worldly nature--look it up in the literature of almost any spiritual--or "rational"--tradition to which you have access and with which you have sympathy. Or consult your own experience from which, by giving you this (truly conservative) wisdom sometime in your twenties (or for us late bloomers, in your thirties), I hope you are among those able to benefit from it in all aspects of your daily life)t.  It's why "sheep" and "the flock" is one of the most frequent and enlightening metaphors for humanity in the Christian tradition. 

The general moral condition in this country is this:  our leaders know (and we accept them basing decisions on) the current price of most everything and the true value of very little.  That's the context of market driven decision making.  Don't look under the hood, in the horse's mouth or behind the curtain.  Just do what everyone else is doing and you'll get what's coming to you in the end.

I've never given a Lily to the Wall Street Journal before--probably because I don't look at it very often.  But today it's theirs.  I wish them well with it.  I wish us all well with the consolation and faith they provide to that part of us too comfortable with and/or afraid to try to stop living in this world we have created for ourselves.

Because as a contemporary prophet once wrote, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way  the wind blows." 

As a young Friend of my acquaintance once put it "the hamster might be dead but the wheel is still spinning."

1 comment:

Kay said...

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." Wizard of Oz.

The sad fact is that "the market" is dominated by short-term interests; no one can afford, or at least thinks they can afford, to take the long-term view.

Long-term view--it's good business to clean up your turkey processing plant. Short-term view? That costs money, so keep pumping out those turkeys until somebody dies.

"The market" will eventually catch up with the short-termers, but that's small consolation to the people who are sick, broke or dead because of them.

I enjoy reading your blog, Tim.