Tuesday, March 09, 2010
This fine essay is reposted from wood s lot. I believe it gets to the root of our condition, i.e. it’s a truly radical analysis of not only our economic, but also our social and spiritual devastation.
HOW WALL STREET TRANSFORMED WORK IN AMERICA
by Etay Zwick
…Pick up the New York Times today, and you’re likely to read yet another article about finance’s infidelity with the general public, another violation of the (invisible) norms of propriety. It is only with immense discipline, a well-stocked inventory of financial jargon and a readiness for self-deception that one can actually distinguish these “violations” from business-as-usual. Yet despite ubiquitous references to Wall Street offenses, maybe even because of them, Americans don’t seem deeply troubled, or even all that perplexed, that this abusive sector remains largely undisturbed. Most of us can dutifully recite the scandals and statistics, but few dare to imagine life without Wall Street. For all the talk of a rapidly evolving economic environment, we treat one feature of this environment as permanent: the existence of a class of individuals who make millions by making nothing. We’re no longer surprised to see business elites divine exorbitant bonuses, paid for through record unemployment levels and unprecedented government support. This trick is getting old.
Though Wall Street consistently updates its instruments and practices, one governing rule has remained since Veblen’s time: financial propriety has nothing to do with social and economic growth. Certain rules must be followed, but the construction of those rules is absolutely distinct from considerations of general social welfare. Rather, regulations and rules are defined according to the culture’s metric of success, of value, of esteem—and that metric is money. All financial practices that increase the wealth of the sector are not merely permitted, they are required. No profitable innovation can be ignored. Destabilizing the global economy is fine. Undermining one’s firm, or jeopardizing the system of trading and speculating, is not.
Finance today is not geared toward getting entrepreneurs the credit they need to actualize their good ideas. It is riddled with archaic social forms that perpetuate barbaric status anxieties. The appeal of the Wall Street lifestyle—money, clean working conditions, (paradoxical) status as stewards of prosperity—has blighted the rest of society with its message that the best kind of work is devoid of social utility, knowledge and permanence. Nonetheless, we continue, even in the wake of economic crisis, to accept the barbarians’ rules for social and economic life. The discussion in government today revolves around minor matters of transparency and enforcement. The barbarian does not abide by rules; indeed, it is a point of pride that he knows his way around them. No matter what regulations are passed, the barbarian will figure out a way to make money from them...
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE, at POINT Magazine