March 06, 2010

Michael Moore stoops to assist

I watched with amusement last night as Michael Moore, in a satellite interview with Bill Maher on "Real Time," offered to replace Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama's Chief of Staff. Moore was standing in front of Goldman Sachs in New York as he spoke, and the failure to enact any regulatory reform whatsoever in the last year was one of Michael's talking points. It's one of the things he's going to help Obama with when Moore becomes Chief of Staff, at a salary of $1 per year, sleeping on a cot in the White House basement.

This seems to be one of the recurring myths among liberals - that Barack just needs the right person whispering in his ear, and then all those dynamic changes we heard about during the campaign will begin to blossom like a host of golden daffodils in spring. I realize that Moore (who is represented by Rahm's brother Ari Emanuel, the flesh-eating super agent in Los Angeles) was simply looking for a little publicity. All in good fun.

His last movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," didn't do all that well, and for good reason. It really wasn't a very good movie. If you want to understand the financial crisis better, try reading "The Quants" by Scott Patterson . That's what I'm doing. If you've ever wondered why the securities industry in the United States continues to exist, despite the fact that the major indices (Dow, S&P 500, Nasdaq) have been essentially flat (at best) over the last eleven years, the book will explain it for you. I mean, think about it: in real dollars, the markets have probably lost 40% of their value since they reached their high point during the Clinton years. So what are all those people doing? You can't buy long and hold and hope to get anywhere, the way the "stock brokers" of our fathers' generation recommended. The answer is that "Wall Street" (which is also headquartered in the richer areas of Connecticut and Southern California) was taken over by mathematicians, physicists, statisticians and game theorists. Although the overall motion of the markets is stagnant (because the United States itself is not really getting anywhere, and hasn't for a long time), within this stagnant pond are many opportunities to take advantage of the misery (mortgage-backed securities, for example, and credit default swaps, and front-running and various other forms of arbitrage), and all of this is enhanced by the use of High Frequency Trading, computerized algorithms and dark pools. Indeed, the whole system depends on such automation. Wall Street is simply a hi-tech casino gamed by very bright people who nevertheless periodically (1987, Long-Term Capital Management in 1999, 2008) create stupendous catastrophes because of the inherent instability and excessive complexity of the financial system. It's driven by greed, but greed isn't exactly the problem. The problem is that the United States has allowed its financial stability and prosperity to become completely dependent on such a sick arrangement, to the point that even "change agent" Presidents like Barack Obama kowtow to the powers that be and throw as much public money as possible at this Geek-infested Monte Carlo because we now think our survival depends upon it. And now the federal government is broke-ass, having taken on the fantastic debts associated with this dysfunctional system (and all the poverty and lost productivity the system caused) and well on its way to complete fiscal unsustainability.

But back to the main point. I wonder if Michael Moore realizes how utterly patronizing his idea is (I won't say "arrogant," because Mr. Moore doesn't strike me as arrogant, just a little naive and clueless, which is probably where Ari helps him so much. Moore doesn't understand how the system really works and so his "populist" ranting just sounds dumb.) It's a common meme, however; Barack is misguided, that's all, and I could straighten him out. Can you imagine saying something like that about Bill Clinton as he moved farther and farther to the "center" of the political spectrum? Neither can I. Moore is saying that Barack Obama is a somewhat lost, overwhelmed little African-American boy who needs guidance.

I really doubt that. I think the O Man is simply a lot more conservative and Establishment than "progressives" thought he would be. He's good on "progressive" issues like global warming and stem cell research (and science funding in general), but those are issues where he can find common ground with Joe Lieberman and Orrin Hatch. They're "safely" progressive ideas. For the rest of it, he's pretty much where George W. Bush was. Ol' W probably knew that, and I'm certain that Bush voted for Obama (he's come close to saying it). The older members of the Baby Boom generation who consider themselve old line Liberals (like your humble Blooger) grew up at a different time and under different influences. We make the mistake of believing that all "liberals" are alike, of whatever age or generation, and whatever their disparate influences. In truth, someone like Bill Moyers has a lot more in common with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than Barack Obama does. Obama has a "pragmatic" and politically-determined view of civil liberties, for example, which would have completely appalled Dr. King.

Different strokes for different folks. If you want, you can see these developments as progress in a post-racist society. Increasingly, that's how I'm looking at it. As Woody Allen might lead in, people of all races, creeds and colors can disappoint the hell out of you in our free and equal opportunity society.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:06 PM

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