By Paul Pry
We live in a “Terminator” world.
I don’t mean, literally, that movie Earth in which an unchecked Defense Department computer system called Skynet instigates nuclear war in order to bring down the human race that made its own creation possible.
Here we have an unchecked, run-amok corporate system that is systematically terminating the very society that made it possible.
Just as it was a fantastical series of events that resulted in world destruction in “The Terminator” — a computer program in sole control of all defense systems becoming self-aware and deciding, at any human cost, to stay operational and in charge — so a series of actual events, fantastical when you think about them, has brought us to this place.
The Wall Street crowd said that federal regulations originally put in place to prevent a repeat of that earlier economic meltdown in 1929 were no longer needed, and were, in fact, encumbering growth. They said 21st century communications and technology would make the economy immune from historic boom and bust cycles because markets would respond quickly and self-correct.
Besides, who better than Wall Street to be Wall Street’s sheriff? The financial center of the country – if not the world – would have a vested interest in operating fairly, ethically and in accordance with the conservative business standards and practices.
Those were the arguments that Wall Street and its paid lobbyists made to willing-to-believe-anything-for-a-contribution politicians. As a result, regulations that for more than 50 years served the country well were dismantled and America was turned upside down: homes lost, pension funds depleted, savings and retirement accounts devastated and the country hundreds of billions of dollars more in debt.
Self-correcting markets and self-policing did not work.
Hell – they can’t work! Corporations have only one purpose, and that is make money. Corporations do not care about fairness or social or economic justice. They have no conscience. They are not patriotic. Those are human qualities, and notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s divine-like ruling that said corporations are people, they really are not. They are artificial constructs – machines – created for the purpose of conducting business as efficiently as possible for the best return on investment possible.
Larger corporations will buy smaller or weaker ones, eliminate redundant functions and “terminate” the workers. They want to pay the lowest wages and drop or roll back benefits to increase profit margins. And if it means a higher return on investment they will move jobs anywhere in the world, regardless of what it means to the American economy and American workers and their families.
People exist only to feed the machine. American infrastructure starts to deteriorate? Not Wall Street’s problem. Living standards slip as wealth increasingly rises to the very top? Also not Wall Street’s problem.
Just as Skynet had no problem wiping out the human race that created it, Wall Street has shown itself willing to wipe out the American middle class whose rise fueled America’s explosive growth for more than half a century.
It’s an incoherent strategy, a destructive and eventually self-destructive one. What’s the future for Wall Street in an increasingly unemployed, impoverished and desperate America?
Sorry, those are questions a person might ask. A machine will not.
If you want Wall Street to behave differently you will have to force the change. And that means regulations to prevent the kind of insane speculating and criminal market manipulation that brought us to where we are now.
But will a Washington, DC, that aided and abetted the rise of Skynet/Wall Street act?
Right now the same corporations, paid lobbyists and willing-to-believe-anything-for-a-contribution politicians are working to roll back the meager banking and finance regs put in place after the 2008 crash to avoid the next one.
And why shouldn’t they, really? For all the ruin Wall Street heaped on the country, neither the corporations involved nor their officers suffered any serious consequences. Wall Street profits are back up to pre-crash levels or better and the enormous salaries, bonuses and commissions for the human cogs in the machine are likewise Skynet-high. Meanwhile, recent Census Bureau figures indicate that 100 million Americans – that’s one in three – are now living below or just above the poverty line
Meanwhile, Wall Street just keeps on doing what it does, regardless. To paraphrase Kyle Reese in explaining the killing machine that is the Terminator to police: That’s what it does! That’s ALL it does! You can’t stop it!
Well, the cops in the movie couldn’t. They lacked the right firepower.
The question is whether Washington will supply the regs needed to stop the termination of the middle class? So far it does not seem likely.