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doug henwood on the crisis

Doug is an old colleague, someone I always look to when the subject turns to money. He's got a piece in The Nation:

This is the point where it's irresistibly tempting to call for a re-regulation of finance. And that is sorely needed. But we also need to remember why finance, like many other areas of economic life, was deregulated starting in the 1970s. From the point of view of the elite, corporate profits were too low, workers were too demanding and the hand of government was too heavy. Deregulation was part of a broad assault to make the economy more "flexible," which translated into stagnant to declining wages and rising job insecurity for most Americans. And the medicine worked, from the elites' point of view. Corporate profitability rose dramatically from the early 1980s until sometime last year. The polarization of incomes wasn't an unwanted side effect of the medicine--it was part of the cure.

Although we're hearing a lot now about how the Reagan era is over and the era of big government is back, an expanded government isn't likely to do much more than rescue a failing financial system (in addition to the more familiar pursuits of waging war and jailing people). Nothing more humane will be pursued without a far more energized populace than we have. After this financial crisis and the likely bailout, it looks impossible to go back to the status quo ante--but we don't seem ready to move on to something appealingly new yet, either.

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