It is that stalwart of American Democracy, John Stuart Mill whom we should be thinking about today, don’t you think? I mean, he was the guy who said that only if votes were public could people be trusted to vote for the public good over their own interest. And it is today that an expected record number of Americans are casting their secret ballots; presumably for their own good- and why not?- since we are all a long way removed from the great JSM’s understanding. Who doesn’t look after their own good – oh, I mean besides people from Kansas. And Jesuits. Oh, and of course, the visionaries of democracy like JSM, who never, not even once, succumbed to a sound bite. And that just might be why he argued that free speech is necessary for intellectual and social progress. We can never be sure, he contends, if a silenced opinion has some merit. Since his day, the consensus seems to have moved to the understanding that “we” can’t know, but media executives can.
They can, perhaps, but they don’t, for an open exchange of ideas leads to understanding and letting go of erroneous beliefs, which drags ratings down, doncha know (wink!). Debate also encourages a re-evaluation and re-examination of beliefs which prevents them from devolving into dogma. Dogma is what you get when you have ‘balance’ in an argument. A balanced machine stands still. So get out there and vote! Vote early, and vote often! And when someone tells you that he can’t vote for a “nigger” punch him in the nose! If they tell you that if Grandpa and Gidget get it it’ll be The East India Company all over again only instead of trafficking in opium, the private company running the US will traffic in the rights to plunder the environment, punch ‘em in the nose! Let’s get unbalanced, shall we?
And speaking of unbalance, doncha know that everyone was afraid that the Large Hadron Collider would become unbalanced or possessed or just plain overly complicated and, you know; hard to understand and scientific, and create a black hole which would destroy the universe as we know it (kinda like Darwinism, when you really think about it…), but instead it was Wall street. And therein lies a Universe-as-We-Don’t-Know-a-Darn-Thing-About. I mean, all of a sudden totally normal people are discussing mortgage-backed securities, naked short-selling, derivatives and, you know, capitalization of, I don’t know, economies and stuff. I can easily tell you more about black holes, event horizons, Beckenstein’s Bound, Schrödinger’s Cat, quantum tunneling and the time-space continuum than I can tell you about the miracle of compound interest. And I’m sure you’re the same way. Not. But you know what I mean.
So when the Troubled Asset Rescue Plan rules say that Hank (if you’re economically hip, or at least an Anglophile, you call him “Hank” but if you’re some sort of rule-abiding, drab non-cognoscenti, you say “Henry” or “Mr. Paulson.” I’m hip. Totally hip.) can spend his $700 billion abroad “to the extent that such foreign financial authorities hold troubled assets as a result of extending financing to financial institutions that have failed or defaulted on such financing, such trouble assets qualify for purchase.”, most of us just go ‘huh?’ , which is right and correct, because if we had had any idea, we would have put a stop to it a long time ago. But as it stands, our $700 bln might just be going to Iceland, where the credit to GDP ratio is at 435% – the worst in the world. South Africa is rated second most risky, at 93%. And our hard-earned, Joe-ish money might just go to Russia, where most of the electorate, like us, only has a vague notion of what stocks and bonds are. Americans, we all know, are all about mortgages – the more sub-prime the better! – but in Russia, mortgages have only been around for about the last five or ten years, so maybe our Joe money is safer there.
The Russian response to the crisis has been privatization of public monies while Europe and North America favor nationalization. Go figure. The concept of a moral hazard (that a visible safety net encourages risky behavior) doesn’t exist in Russia. The Kremlin has poured rubles into its markets in bits and drabs, but always to those companies like Gazprom and Rosneft which are the most tractable to its will. All together the amount of lucre flooding out of the central bank is roughly twice that in proportion to GDP as is being unleashed in the US. Still, the Russian stock market has lost 2/3 of its value since its peak in June, and just to continue the weird, inside-out, backwards and yet perfectly symmetrical photo-negative that constitutes the role playing of the US and Russia – it is in OUR near abroad that Russia is making inroads, palling it up with the likes of Hugo Chavez, who feels about the same about the US as Georgia (the country) does about Russia.
In any case, unbalance shouldn’t be a problem for any of us. Headlines like “Greenspan ‘shocked’ that free markets are flawed”(International Herald Tribune, 24 October, 2008) shouldn’t shock us. After all, so far it is only Spain’s banks that haven’t needed bailing. Funny thing is – they’re socialists. I just wish that all the rescuers, the smarties who never needed rescuing and all the rest had, like, team jerseys. I suppose that’s why today’s election is so much about the loopy cracker and the nigger. Vote now.