Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Economics 101

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I spent half of yesterday in front of MSNBC watching the market crash in slow motion, first dipping below 10,000 then sinking bit by bit until something like 800 points had been lost.

An hour before the closing bell, there was a small rally as traders dove in reflecting optimism about a global interest rate cut, or maybe they just snatched up some bargains because even blue chip stocks like Coke had lost a good chunk of their value. Hell, what do I know?

I've been haunting economic sites since the disaster interrupted our Palin feeding frenzy. It's like visiting a foreign country with its own language and rules, or deep sea diving where you can apparently get so turned around in the murky depths there's no way to know which direction is up except by watching the bubbles of your exhaled breath.

What I knew before about the workings of the market could fit in a teaspoon. Now, I think I could fill a whole Grande Caffe Latte cup from Starbucks, which by the way is not riding out this storm too well. They've closed a ton of stores, especially in Australia.

Nobody agrees on anything. Experts say 1) the big bailout (rescue) was not perfect but better than doing nothing, or 2) it will have no effect whatsoever, and it was a big mistake when we are going to need the money for a social safety net.

Likewise, they say that 1) the disastrous economy is going to last several months before gradually improving, or 2) life as we know it is completely over and pretty soon there'll be people selling apples by the side of the road, and not just the Greenmarket.

Everybody agrees we're in trouble in the short term. Except, maybe, for the Masters of the Universe ensconced in their Greenwich, Connecticut homes, people are going to be sliding from the upper class down to the middle where there will be plenty of room, because the middle class is sliding right down the coal chute straight to hell.

The upside is, Russia is too broke to start more wars, and maybe now it will finally be time for that nationwide dialogue about class I've been waiting for since 2000 when Ralph Nader nattered on about it in his failed presidential bid, and the anarchists were busy busting up the WTO in Seattle. Remember that?

These days, you only hear about class when the Republicans accuses Democrats of trying to start a class or culture war, though the Dems themselves only dare refer to it couched in the euphemistic language of "income disparity" or "economic interests." As in, "why don't those red state morons vote their economic interests?" Perhaps your snotty tone explains why.

The current Democrats, like Nader's Greens, have about as much understanding of working people as the Salvation Army types in Brecht's play, "Saint Joan of the Stockyards" (1931), who didn't understand why their offer of free soup, nice music, and haranguing calls for salvation didn't have a long-lasting appeal to the desperate.

I caught the play last Tuesday. It seemed contemporary, all the masked greed, manipulated economies. Especially, the character of Pierpont Mauler, speculator and meatpacking plant owner riding high, higher, highest until he sinks like a stone only to be welcomed back into the market by his friends and victims; things wouldn't be the same without his bright ideas. No such redemption for the poor people of the play like Joan Dark, who ends up dead of illness and hunger in the middle of a snowy Chicago street.

While we're not quite there yet, the play reminded me of the elephant in the room, that even now, in the midst of the current mortgage crisis and total economic crash we're still limiting our vocabulary to "Wall Street" versus "Main Street." There may be questions of greed, vengeance, loss, but nowhere do you find words related to "class" unless it's paired to Middle.

It's like trying to analyze the impact of hurricane Katrina, or police brutality or profiling without the words "race" or "racism." Though maybe the word "class" is irrelevant or outdated. The cognoscenti say we're post-race, and post-gay, even if queers are still blamed for everything, from the Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, to this current mess, which Barney Frank apparently caused having a homo affair a decade ago with one person associated with Fannie Mae mortgages.

On the other hand, maybe "class" analysis won't work because almost everybody in the U.S. sees themselves in the same middle one, from rich, multiple home-owners to the poor who are always just one job, one university degree, one generation away from the illustrious Middle both ends are played against.

Maybe, in fact, there is no poor, no rich at all. In America 2008, there are just "differently leveraged," all hedging their bets.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

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