"I’m ruined! Ruined…!" was Billy Fairplay’s cry in the days before social welfare in Ireland. Back then Billy would work the Munster and Leinster country fairs alongside the other hucksters and shysters plying their trade. Like his Wall Street successors, Billy operated a kind of opaque ambulatory shell game scam.
If the suckers could beat the scam they won a shilling or sixpence – worth the trouble when wages were a a few shillings a week. Periodically a little lad-accomplice would excitedly claim his win, to the crowd’s great delight. Then up would go the cry from Billy, "Ruin!…" Before long, another set of suckers were paying out their hard earned pennies for a share of the Billy Fairplay action.
Billy Fairplays used to be a regular feature of fairs and market days in the UK and Ireland. (It was also the name of a device the mine-owners used to grade coal produced by super-exploited miners on piece-work. It sorted prime lumps from the slag, for which the miners got paid little or nothing.) The current legions of corporate globalizing trickadeloups are true descendants of those olden-day Billy Fairplays. Not one of them blinks an eyelid expecting their multi-billion systemic failures ("Ruin…!") to be socialised by impoverished taxpayers.
And so the dry-rotten decrepit capitalist Thing fronds and mewls its creeping way along. Now its corporate media are saturated with coverage of the mouldywarp primaries, those corporate benedictions funding-fixed by Wall Street’s Billy Fairplays – Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and the rest. All are heading for fat pickings on November’s presidential market day in the United States.
Outside the US and its allied countries fewer people than ever care which of the plutocrat thimbleriggers ends up fronting the United States government. Any least bad resolution of the stunning mess left by the Bush regime cacodemons’ insane greed and Americanist hubris will hardly change the underlying systemic crisis. The Bank of England’s Mervyn King reckons it will be well into 2009 before any cavalry arrive. What language the riders may speak and whose heads they may have lopped off with their sabres on the way is anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, two broad aspects of the current debacle continue to perplex. One is the free ride given to arrogant, jargon-drunk politicians, Treasury officials, corporate economic journalists and assorted fakir-analysts who maybe never understood, or negligently forgot, or criminally ignored the basic implications of the relationship between budget and trade deficits. The other is the curious media oblivion enjoyed by double-talking casino capitalism’s corrosive osmotic seepage into government policy.
The huge US budget deficit results from wholesale corporate welfare corruption – personified by Dick Cheney – coupled with multinational tax avoidance, irresponsible tax-cuts and grotesque levels of military spending, compounded by the criminal aggression against Iraq and handouts to sinister gangster regimes around the world in countries like Israel, Colombia, Pakistan and Egypt. Since US savings levels are negligible, the deficit cannot be financed from domestic resources. So the government borrows abroad, printing dollars in the form of Treasury paper to be sold to foreigners along with Wall Street derivative junk.
The devalued money feeds back into the domestic financial system to fund the budget deficit and facilitate credit for businesses and consumers to continue to pay for imports that widen the trade deficit. That printing press activity has slooshed liquidity into a banking system that may well be largely insolvent by now as losses from a decade of derivative paper gambling mount up. While US Treasury money-printing is a genre all its own thanks to the dollar’s reserve status, the European Central Bank seems not to be that far behind, confirming the euro’s co-dependency on chronic dollar paper-substance abuse.
For over twenty years, diverse financial institutions like banks and mortgage outfits have interchanged roles and thrown off regulation so as to be able to take greater risks and earn greater returns trading other people’s money and property. The result has been frenzied speculative, credit and property bubbles that have worked against productive investment for both domestic and export sectors. Offshoring manufacturers and fancy brands followed stupendous amounts of speculative hot money overseas chasing quick profits and cheap labour.
The speculators destabilised countries like Argentina or Russia and whole regions like South East Asia, before going off to holiday in tax havens around the globe. Offshoring manufacturers helped balloon trade deficits by turning exports into imports. Their tax-shy profits jostle in the Caymans, Anguilla or the British Virgin Islands with those of narcotics and people traffickers, alongside the fabulous off-balance sheet transactions of the corporate Billy Fairplays. What may once have been passed off as neo-liberal faith-based deregulatory delusion now looks like what it always was – deliberate wholesale systemic corruption.
Ernon and WorldCom were not freak exceptions. Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers were fall guys for a plutocrat system built on fraud. When the New York Attorney General managed to nail Citigroup’s Salomon Smith Barney, Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, UBS Warburg, and Goldman Sachs, after an investigation into foreign exchange fraud, they got off with a puny US$1.5 billion in fines – a modest cost of doing corrupt business, given the combined wealth of those outfits. Again one recalls Andre Maurois’ quote from Montesquieu, "“The law is like a web, big insects fly right through it, only the little ones get caught…”
Against this backdrop of systemic corruption, the politicans and economic talking-heads pretended the deficits really no longer mattered. They laughed at old economy thinking. They said regulation and capital controls messed up the efficient working of the markets. They thought Alan Greenspan was smart to reinflate a credit boom after the dot com fiasco, keeping interest rates lower than inflation.
They reckoned G7 cabals, creeping dollar devaluation and making faces at China would do enough to ward off the looming budget bailiffs and the trade deficit repo-men. Now impoverished US taxpayers will get strongarmed into paying for their political, financial and commercial leaders’ moral bankruptcy. Mirroring the politicians’ corporate-friendly criminal dereliction of duty, US troops will carry on murdering civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else the bogus "war on terror" can plausibly be inflicted. US gangster-diplomats, captained by teflon-coated death-squad specialist John Negroponte, will continue destabilising countries where excluded majorities have worked out how to get free from foreign domination.
Words and currency
The United States’ political system of Billy Fairplay corporate plutocracy, like every fairground scam, has always been run to hoodwink the majority. What may be new about the current economic and foreign policy hames is how the deception is more and more intricately interwoven with a broad and deep moral failure by news media identified more closely than ever with the political and corporate establishment. They bought the endless prosperity, end-of-history, neoliberal dungheap and wallowed in it. Now they wonder why they stink.
Is there a single major foreign policy issue on which the corporate news media have not facilitated US government propaganda over the last dozen years? Let’s see…. Serbia, Rwanda, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Haiti, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Somalia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Indonesia, China, Russia, Philippines….Pick an issue and the overwhelming balance of coverage will be in favour of the US government line or maybe a slightly divergent rival.
So when some puffed-up herald-toad rides out from the US Army’s Southern Command fiefdom to proclaim in Colombia that Hugo Chavez represents a menace to regional stability we can be sure Chavez must be doing something good. And when Ben Bernamke says that things might not be so bad, then we know things are going to get exponentially worse. And when the New York Times or the Washington Post praise the latest neo-colonial puppet, Karzai or Abbas or al-Maliki, we can be sure those individuals have betrayed their peoples. And when by a freak chance some representative of the US corporate Thing actually tells the truth then we know it can only be true despite the fact that they say it is.
Similar processes are at work in the European Union. The intellectual and moral corruption is at least as deep there, though perhaps not so broad. A fundamental correspondence exists between debased moral intuition and worthless currency. In 2008 some new plutocrat popinjay will take over from King Juan Carlos W. Bush. In the European Union, Billy Fairplay supreme-war-crime-aggressor Tony Blair is blagging to be President. Who cares, even among their potential victims? Who believes a word any of them say?