Events of the past weeks have made my job explaining The Army of the Republic a lot easier. I no sooner say "It’s set in a near-future America that’s gone through a financial collapse . . ." than a smile of recognition comes across my listener’s face. We’ve all watched the escalating headlines, first Bear Stearns’ bailout at 29 billion, then AIG at 85 billion. Now, with the camel’s nose completely inside the tent, the government is proposing a rush rush bailout that might run to more than a trillion dollars! Don’t stop to read the fine print, guys, we need action! It’s a little like mugging a guy who’s been knocked cold in a traffic accident.
And yes, looking backward, I’ve seen this before. All the corporate shucks and cons we’re seeing here now-the crony capitalism, the privatizations, the profiteering, the complete impunity for the perpetrators-were first perfected in the sunny climes of Latin America. Even the "bailout."
When the dictatorship came down on Argentina in 1976, the national debt of that country of about 30,000,000 people was 8 billion dollars. Six years and 30,000 bodies later, the junta was faced with a crumbling economy and a disastrous war they had started in the Falklands. It was time to go back to the barracks.
But the junta had one last kick in the ass to deliver on the way out the door. You see, during their six years in power they and their supporters had borrowed or guaranteed an enormous amount of money from US and European banks, as well as the IMF and World Bank. Much of this money was stolen: redirected to Swiss bank accounts or squandered by regime cronies. Much was distributed to Argentine banks, corporations and individuals who didn’t worry too much about how it was spent. As the economy nosedived, though, global banks began to worry about getting paid. As a final gift, the ruling Generals nationalized all the debts, making the people of Argentina responsible for money they and their supporters had burned through. In six years, they had nearly sextupled Argentina’s debt to 45 billion dollars. Twenty six years and more than 200 billion dollars of payments later, Argentina is still trying to pay off the debt.
But to imagine that in the United States would make AOR a "paranoid fantasy" (Publisher’s Weekly).
We can only hope this bailout works, and "works" in this case means fending off a major depression in exchange for crippling our children’s America with debt. As much as I want to see the Wall Street millionaires and suburban mortgage brokers who perpetrated this hustle stripped of their assets and put into stocks, I can’t help but think that it’s all gone according to a well-danced two step. First, you relax regulations so your clients can cook up legal con games, and second, you let the people pick up the tab when it all crashes. There is a third step, and that’s where the same crooks who caused the problems in the first place swoop in and buy up at pennies on the dollar the properties (and bonds) they were bailed out of, but there I go again, with my paranoid fantasies.
Stuart Archer Cohen‘s controversial new novel, The Army of the Republic, (St. Martin’s Press) is set in a near-future United States where economic collapse and a one-party "democracy" has spawned a violent backlash. The book centers around Lando, a Seattle urban guerrilla devoted to violent resistance, Emily, a political organizer in Seattle, and James Sands, a billionaire and government crony. Critics have called the book "brilliant," "terrifying," and "treasonous."