It's You, Stupid

The economy plummets from time to time, but the real disaster is the economic system.

Between the writing of this column and its reading, yet another investment bank could go belly up and file for bankruptcy. Yet another bank could go the way of all paper and lose 95 percent of its value. It's not the economy, stupid. It's the economic system.

The economy plummets from time to time, but the real disaster is the economic system. The hogs sit on their hoards and crush their victims beneath their weight, but those who get squashed are invisible, transparent - human dust that scatters to the winds, their cries drowned out in the din. Only now, as the neo-liberal hogs are turning on those who bred them, are the defects and ills of the system being revealed. Now even those who had money to sink are sinking.

So what do you want, you lumbering dinosaurs, with that socialist economy of yours? For us to be like Cuba? North Korea? Is that what you want?

No, not really. What we would like to see is an economy that is a little more responsible and a little less wild, an economy where not every greedy, conniving opportunist is king, an economy that does not revolve around "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die - and bring everyone down with us."

Even the free market is not a jungle. Justice is not a charity ball. There is such a thing as solidarity in the world, not just competition. A little more Europe, a lot less America - that is what we are proposing. We believe that prevention is better than a cure. Because when these high-flying corporations fall out of the sky, it is our heads they fall on.

The U.S. administration is expected to rush to their aid. Who else is better qualified to pick them up when they fall in the night, as the lights burn bright in the windows of Wall Street? Yet who is the good uncle who bails them out in times of trouble? Not Uncle Sam and not Aunt America. It's you, stupid - the taxpayers of the world. It is you who are asked to make haste and open your pocket, to close the black hole that has opened up and threatens to swallow everything, including you.

Public administration is, of course, considered bad as long as the capitalist ocean is at high tide and the sharks swim around freely. But when the tide ebbs, these man-eaters lose their sense of direction. They are helplessly dragged toward shore and it becomes our job to return them to the deep. All of a sudden, it is okay to nationalize a giant bank or an insurance company that has lost its assurance. Suddenly, "nationalization" is no longer a dirty word but a pragmatic necessity.

Those slinking out of their heavily curtained Volvos today, afraid to be seen in their ignominy, are yesterday's whiz kids, the great financial geniuses, the magicians of the stock market. But don't pull out your hankies: They retreat to their mansions, bought with your banking fees, and the bonuses and stock options that you granted them, or drop into their penthouses by golden parachute until the tempest blows over, or until the next crisis erupts.

This past week, I heard an Israeli bank manager being interviewed on the radio. There is nothing to worry about, he explained. Israel is an island of stability and prosperity, far from the eye of the storm. Inanities flowed pleasantly from his lips.

Do not be taken in by the sweet talk of people with vested interests. Those who dream of being "like America" and long to be part of the American dream could end up on the rubbish heap when that dream is dashed.