Monday, April 2, 2012

Week of 04/02/2012

It’s High Time We Acknowledge The Greedy Elephant
– by David Matthews 2

It was fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 Oliver Stone movie “Wall Street” that gave the infamous line…

“Greed… for the lack of a better word… is good.”

Gekko, of course, was the epitome of the business mindset of the 80’s. He was aggressive, direct, downright sociopathic, and, of course, filthy rich. He took pride in taking over companies, butchering them up, and selling them off to make as much money as can for the investors, and mostly for himself. For that he was idolized and celebrated, despite his critics.

At the end of “Wall Street”, we don’t know what happens to Gekko. The movie ends with his budding apprentice-slash-patsy Bud Fox being dropped off at the courthouse to give testimony that would bring Gordon down, but we don’t know whether or not he got away with his actions. We would have to wait until the 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” to find that Gordon Gekko was actually convicted and sent to prison.

Perhaps the ultimate insult for Gekko that was pointed out in the sequel is that everything that sent him to prison in the 80’s would eventually be perfectly legal just a decade later. Not only legal, but commonplace and practiced with seemingly wild abandon.

We recognize the character and his quote. We recognize what he symbolized in the 80’s and again in the 2000’s.

Yet there is a certain white elephant that nobody wants to acknowledge when it involves Gordon Gekko and that infamous quote.

Gordon Gekko didn’t just materialize in the minds of Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser. Real-life people were the inspiration behind Gekko. But more importantly, real-life environments gave rise to these people and the mindsets they operated under. It is this mindset that has been transforming the business world and society in general towards the predatory philosophy of plunder, the Raubwirtschaft, that is behind all of the economic problems we face today.

Even Gordon Gekko, in his famous movie speech from 1987, did not want to out-and-out admit to this. He tries to disguise it as being merely an aspiration; a quest to better one’s self, a desire to do more and to know more. “Greed,” he says, “for lack of a better word…”

But, then again, it was a sales pitch. He wasn’t trying to be philosophical. He wasn’t trying to educate the investors like they were in some business school. He was selling investors on the idea of making a lot of money now, instead of continuing to invest in the long-term for a business that benefits everyone.

He was selling greed.

And let’s get brutally honest here… greed is the big white elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge, and it is the intentional, willful denial of the existence of that white elephant that is destroying America bit by bit.

Imagine being on a pontoon boat in the middle of a lake. You’ve already filled the boat to its maximum safe capacity of people and weight. Now add the elephant to it. Now run the engine at full throttle. Not only are you not going to get very far with all that weight, but you’re also going to start sinking.

Our sense of greed, that predatory philosophy of plunder, the Raubwirtschaft, is that elephant. We’re telling ourselves that we should be able to move, and yet we aren’t. We’re forcing ourselves to get rid of as many passengers as we can when we should be getting rid of the elephant. But as long as we refuse to recognize that very elephant that is weighing us down, we can’t get ourselves out of the dilemma. We continue to falter and sink.

Take a look at the price of gasoline. The price of gasoline goes up and up on a regular basis, and every single explanation offered from the conservatives, from the paid whores of talk radio, from the corrupt GOP politicians, and even from the oil executives themselves, have each been disproved. They talk about a lack of oil when there is a glut; they talk about a lack of refineries when they refuse to build new ones; they talk about repressive regulations even after those regulations are relaxed; they talk about a lack of an energy policy when they practically hand-wrote the 2005 policy that they had passed. We produce more oil here, as they ask, and then we end up selling it overseas. Why?

That leaves only one explanation: Greed. And nobody wants to admit that it’s about greed, even when every single piece of evidence points directly to it. Even after they have masterfully manipulated legislation so that the very definition of “price gouging” is so porous that it couldn’t even snare Snidely Whiplash red-handed, they are deftly afraid to admit that greed is the true force behind these price hikes. Greed from the speculators, seeking to plunder as much money as they can from the market, and also greed from the executives in the oil industry as they stand back and watch the speculators go wild while they rake in the profits.

Of course the oil execs don’t want to admit to greed, even if they’re not directly involved with it, because that would result in a public push to coral the speculators, and that ends their gravy train. Likewise, the politicians, the lobbying groups, the paid whores of talk radio and cable news, they all get a share of that gravy train greed. They have every reason in the world to not acknowledge that bloated white elephant that is slowly sinking our ship of state.

Likewise, the healthcare industry is full of companies engaging in nothing short of greed and plunder.

Not too long ago, I came across a story from Texas of a nurse that provides minor health services to those that cannot afford insurance. Her clientele range from those in absolute poverty to middle-class families that cannot afford the high monthly premiums of health insurance. This nurse provides everything except surgery. The medicine she gives costs her less than a dollar. She charges her patients ten-to-fifteen dollars. But if she went through insurance companies, then that same medicine costs almost a hundred dollars.

Now why is that? The insurance companies claim that they’re picking up the tab for the uninsured. But is that really the case? You would think that if they really had to “pick up the tab” for the uninsured that they would make insurance both affordable and available enough for everyone to purchase it. It’s like McDonald’s selling fifty-dollar cheeseburgers and then justifying the price by saying that they’re footing the bill for everyone that can’t afford to eat there. The logic is just wrong.

And isn’t it funny that when the talk of healthcare reform came up that nobody was talking about the insurance companies, the very source of the problem? We heard this continual rhetoric from the GOP about how government shouldn’t impose itself between a doctor and a patient when the problem was that the insurance companies were already doing that.

So ponder this: the price of heathcare continually goes up and coverage is rationed and micromanaged, giving rise to the call for the government to do something about it. If the government does nothing, the insurance companies continue to punish America by jacking up prices and rationing coverage. If the government does something, the insurance companies punish America by jacking the prices up even higher and further rationing coverage. If the government does something and then reconsiders, then not only do the insurance companies punish America, but they would supposedly punish America even worse simply because the government dared to do something in the first place. That’s not just greedy, that’s being maliciously vindictive. We’re talking a level of evil normally reserved for movie villains.

Let’s not forget those “Too Big To Fail” banks. You tell me, how can they justify getting hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts, making huge profits, and then hitting up their own customers for fees on top of fees while still raking in record profits, and not have it be about greed?

These aren’t the only businesses, of course, that are engaging in the Raubwirtschaft. These are just the most obvious example.

Of course all of this is camouflaged with political demagoguery. The current White House resident is blamed for enacting some non-existent socialist conspiracy that would make the John Burch conspiracy people look downright credible. Big money is spent on PR campaigns to suggest that any misery being imposed is tolerable and justified. The finger of blame is maliciously and fraudulently waived about by the paid whores of talk radio and cable news to accuse the great unwashed of being spoiled and reckless and… dare I say… greedy.

And all of it done to hide that bloated white elephant. All of it done to hide the fact that greed has become not only the prime motivating factor for business, but also its goal. It’s not enough to be rich. It’s not enough to be successful. It’s no longer how much one can make, but rather the new measuring stick is how much that business can take from others and get away with it.

We need that elephant exposed. We need to see its ugly bleached skin for the blight that it is and talk about the elephant and affix its handlers in business to that elephant. Our refusal to recognize that elephant creates the real-life versions of Gordon Gekko by the hundreds, and what is not mentioned in the sequel but is made painfully obvious is that these new versions of Gekko are never held to account for their actions like Gordon was in the first movie. That is how pervasive the elephant of greed has become both on the silver screen and in real life.

The ship of state is still sinking, despite the media push to the contrary. We can either recognize the elephant that is sinking us, or we can watch as it brings us all down. You better make your choice now before that elephant’s enormous weight makes it moot.

No comments: