Wall Street

The protests against corporate greed on Wall Street has spread beyond the borders of the United States–Italian police had to break up an unruly mob that was throwing rocks into buildings. I wonder if the buildings they damaged were owned by the corporations they despise–or whether they were family owned small businesses who were harmed by the damage.

Despite such bad behavior, I have some sympathy for the protesters. The banking industry almost singlehandedly destroyed the American economy. The repercussions could have damaged beyond repair European economies and led to a world economic collapse. When the regulatory shoe was pulled off the banks, their leaders did everything they could to get richer quickly by selling debt, dealing derivatives, and engaging in other risky behavior. The claim of some conservatives that the program that required banks to make home loans to the poor was responsible for the economic crisis is naive–bad loans were being made across all socioeconomic classes. Like most quick buck schemes, the bankers were bound to fail. Their greed devastated real people and their “punishment” was a reward–a multi-billion dollar bail out that would not have been given to most companies if they were in similar danger of going under. The banks were infamously thought “too big to fail.” Executives who failed were rewarded by the banks with huge bonuses. I can understand how the public can be angry when much of the recent federal debt is due to bailing out bankers.

The problem I have with the protesters is that they confuse capitalism with corporatism. Capitalism can flourish in a world without large multinational corporations. Small, community-based businesses in the older American of country and small towns can compete with each other but be close enough to their  communities to care for the people in them and be motivated by more than the profit motive. Local banks run by people with a stake in their communities have a better chance of being operated for motives other than mere profit. This is the world the Southern Agrarians–especially Andrew Lytle and Donald Davidson, wanted to return in a country dominated by huge corporations.

Some of the protestors might have sympathy with the Agrarians–there have been moves by some on the left to approach the right–especially Ron Paul supporters–about setting up capitalism in a way that encourages the local community in  a decentralized governmental system in which there is more personal freedom, a necessary prerequisite to people having room to operate small businesses. Generally, however, protestors support the same old tired socialist and Marxist systems that have failed in the past. By setting up in advance a false dichotomy with no third way, they end up supporting a system which has caused the deaths of millions of people and which has enslaved many more. Communism leads to hard-core oppression as government goes beyond its proper bounds of power and gains the hubris to think it can reverse man’s Fall.

Corporitism leads to a softer tyranny by manipulation (through a compliant media and business community). Social pressure is used to force individuals into molds that fit the corporations’ thirst for profit.  Corporate executives also lack knowledge, for the most part, of the branches of the company they are supposed to supervise–the efficient distribution of needed goods and services to local communities will be lacking. Communities desperate for jobs may sell their souls for a bowl of corporate porridge. Local resistance to large corporations often evaporates in the face of a threat from a corporation that it will not move a plant to the area unless it receives tax breaks and other economic incentives. Local communities need the jobs, and instead of encouraging small business investment, they go for a quick fix. Local banks fail, and branches of  large corporate banks open in their place. This brings jobs and capital temporarily, but corporations have become increasingly disloyal to their initial commitments to the community and have closed U. S. plants in favor of outsourcing to Mexico, Central and South America. Banks have put speculation over fiscal responsibility. In an entity as large as a contemporary corporate, money is the name of the game, and people take a distant second-place unless strong corporate leadership changes the ethic of a corporation. But that is a difficult task in a large corporation; the larger the corporation, the more difficult a change in its fundamental moral practices becomes.

The protestors are correct in much of their critique of corporatism, but are wrong in their Marxist solution to the problem. It would be better if they read the Southern Agrarians, especially Take My Stand, and authors such as D. H. Lawrence and J. R. R. Tolkien. These works offer a tertium quid that can shortchange the greed of the moneychangers.