Whether acting in or out as Miss Piggy, Big Bird, Oscar, the Cookie Monster, Kermit the Frog, Animal, Gonzo the Great or Fozzie Bear, according to Goldman Sachs, we, the 99%, are all Muppets in waiting. Those pulling our strings in the name of their own unalienable rights to unearthly wealth creation at our working class expense should be sued by Jim Henson from his grave for breach of contract with the cultural heartbeat and soul of a country that is still a great deal more than the sum of its markets.
Nothing has changed over the past 30 years in Wall Street’s “heads I win, tails you lose” casino economy. Case in point: Michael Lewis’ “Liars Poker” depiction of Salomon Brothers ripping off mortgage holders in the roaring 1980s where the worst insult was to call someone a “client,” and now Goldman Sachs partners dissing their own clients as supine, ready-to-be milked “Muppets” per former executive Greg Smith’s recently published revelations. Instead, the accompanying denigration, the way many U.S. financial system clients and stakeholders are debased not only as victims but as cultural objects of derision, clearly marks the sneering hallmark of oligarchic structural inequality expressed in terms of fundamental disrespect and disregard directed at those condemned to play by the current rules.
How many more tragedies beyond the 2008 Great Recession must drive-by victims endure to break the vampire squid-like financial sector’s stranglehold on an equitable recapitalization of our American democracy? With more than one-trillion dollars lost in Main Street assets, including more than 11 million homeowners currently locked into underwater mortgages from the Great Recession fall-out, national income inequality has grown into a societal Loch Ness chasm marked by stagnant labor mobility and multi-located shareholders’ predatory economic attacks against the places we call home. Is there any possible bridge back to the equal opportunity society our ancestral immigrant forefathers and mothers signed up for without massive structural reordering to reconnect the disheartened, disbelieving dispossessed?
The New York Times channels MIT professor, Daron Acemoglu, and James Robinson, in “Why Some Countries Go Bust?” (Adam Davidson, March 13, 2012), to make a “back to the future” point that “the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy.” Acemoglu-Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail” is less esoteric economics rocket science and more real-time, accurate academic prediction of a reawakened American self-reliance where stakeholders repurpose their local living ecostructures to provide equity and lasting value. This new gut-center needle of middle class American economic democracy is pointing towards equitable hybrid stakeholder participation models so that “never again” becomes an epitaph fixed to predatory Wall Street victory deal tombstones. Never again should we allow self-interested vulture outsiders to bury our neighborhoods, factories and livelihoods in one-sided mountains of debt so that a few might become obscenely rich while the victimized many become organically disenfranchised for generations.
For those on the working class receiving end, clearly, the functional payola downside from harmful financial sector pig-headed values has never been more obvious, contaminating the ever-optimistic, altruistic, common ground American spirit. Headlined by verbal disdain for its ripped-off victims and by white collar criminal intent paint-balled with insanely distorting profits, daily announcements of fines paid without admitting guilt, and self-awarded bonuses for civic failure – our predatory investor class, like Pogo, have “met the enemy and he is us.” For those who practice the buying and selling of American workers as indentured chattel and artificially rootless commodities using someone else’s profit motive as the bitter fruit excuse for outrageously unequal outcomes, this is all about business as usual. Going past the moral edge in financial markets turns out to be no different than purchasing government policies, politicians and Supreme Court injustices along the yellow brick road to prosperity gospel paradise.
Today, auto-bullied and robo-bashed America suffers from self-inflicted economic wounds that have rushed community stakeholders into extinction triage, wounds that reject traditional definitions and solutions. Our political and policy leaders reassure that contemporary Greek social upheaval could never happen in the American heartland, but this year there is little voter “willing suspension of disbelief” for such bold claims.
In fact, campaign pollsters are discovering that working class voters generally manifest an instinctive, visceral aversion to solutions delivered via the elites of either principal political party. More revealing is Plato’s prophetic condemnation of Wall Street life imitating Gordon Gecko “greed is good,” deal-making art that is dissolving right before our eyes into chillingly accurate, publicly accessible vignettes of those who, while still signing up to trust the systems in place, are being crassly scorned and then financially punished for doing so. In Greece-USA, the classic Aristotle catharsis solution where purification occurs through pity and fear is no match for the growing public reaction to the 1% proprietary capitalism wrecking ball that ends up generating permanent outrage in the smoldering memories of its victims.
This kind of continuous bad conduct morphs self-styled financial sector job creators into direct perpetrators of class warfare as both Wall Street and Silicon Valley IPO success models are weighted more heavily to create wealth for investors than sustain local business activity and commitments. On a micro level, when early return profits are distributed to external shareholders as opposed to internal reinvestment in alignment with a company’s most pressing strategic and tactical needs starting with its own workforce, growth becomes less rational, less organic, less community-centric and more focused on making “Hail Mary Pass” bets pay-off to keep the money class satisfied no matter what the costs to stakeholders. On a macro level, this economic class dichotomy between those who invest and those who are invested or disinvested in rolls itself more and more across the national big board of the American public marketplace experience into an overwhelmingly skewed 1% versus the 99% income inequality and wealth portfolio social demarcation divide. Eternally rising expectations for the few meet declining horizons, standards and hopes for the many in a national equation that no longer jells as the inequality disease spreads and oligarchies begin to buy and integrate the country’s institutions into private socio-political plantations.
Dumbing down our national policy into posturing ideological clichés represents a bipartisan suicidal failure to recognize deadly polarizing socio-economic effects resulting from our zero-sum political culture manifested by what Michael Gerson calls, “a scandal of sanity” on the right and a failure of vision, nerve and execution on the left. The Hobson’s choice before us goes way beyond class-divide conformity. We can either settle for conditions and expectations oversold but under-delivered from boardrooms, campaign finance and special interest money bundlers, or we can reclaim our right to occupy, reinvent and repossess our own town squares, to regain and rejuvenate the places that make our lives count, those places that remind us of who we are.
Far from settling for a Norman Rockwell portrait re-hash of an elusively simplistic westward expanding America, we have learned that we cannot nor want to survive the twisted, uneven mean streets contemporary predatory capital market elites and politicians for hire have designed and selected that have become our daily wasteland. To do otherwise in an America where the 1% ownership class holds compounding unequal advantages will extinguish upward mobility and any hope for a rising 99% middle class founded on three principles that have kept the emotional helium buoying the American dream balloon to date: anyone can do anything in America, leadership is best viewed through personal example and society as a whole wins when shared rewards equal shared risks for stakeholders as well as shareholders.
The worst possible solution as Acemoglu-Robinson-Davidson suggest would be a “grudging acquiescence of the beaten-down masses” to the point where wealth accumulation inequality becomes ingrained and today’s economic class divisions transform into tomorrow’s locked and loaded social castes. Then, truly, we will have assassinated our priceless frontier, “anything is possible in America” culture in exchange for a spiritual and moral inability to remain a free people. We will have failed in driving the corrupted and corrupting money changers from the American democracy temple.