I wish I can say that my return stateside after a rather lengthy sojourn in Europe has been pleasant and encouraging. Instead, I find myself just trying to come to terms with how incredibly worse things have gotten over the last few months. It’s incredible. Things just continue deteriorating at a breakneck pace, it almost defies logic. The stench of economic stagnation is shocking when you don’t see it around you everyday.
Look, none of what I see happening surprises me. What does surprise me is that there appears to be no bottom to the continuing decline. There’s no way around it, here in Florida, a place that never really had things going for it economically to begin with, things are just utterly depressing here. You can feel and smell the desperation everywhere.
Things are crumbling. Tax bases have vaporized. Major businesses are shutting down. I can’t count how many people I know are in foreclosure. Municipalities and counties are following suit with their citizens and going broke in droves. The decline is across the board. People are in a funk about their present, their future, and how things will fare out. It’s incredibly sad.
This rapid stagnation and decay has truly gone nationwide. Most of my stateside friends concur that things are bad where they are. It doesn’t matter whether it’s LA, New York, Chicago, Texas, or Anytown, USA. The economic drain that is happening in this country is without a doubt a nationwide epidemic. Even more depressing, most economists are saying that things can get even worse.
Let’s keep it real. Economic cycles happen. There are boom times and bust times. There are bull markets and bear markets. That’s all normal. What’s not normal, however, is how things got THIS bad this time around. And WHY they have gotten this bad. We all know by now that everything that has happened thus far has virtually nothing to do with normal economic cycles or forces. It’s bigger and more sinister than that.
The financial meltdown of 2007-2008 was a direct result of blatant government and corporate corruption, greed, and lack of self-regulation. Corporate America, particularly the financial sector, to put it mildly, went apeshit. The “smart money” sucked the financial life out of the rest of the investment world, leaving average investors screwed. Corporations exploited and continue to exploit consumers at their expense.
They knew EXACTLY what they were doing, and left taxpayers holding the bag. Delve into the details of the recent meltdown. It’s plain to see that there was always a contingency plan to pass the risk on to the unwitting taxpayer when things did inevitably go to shit. Bush/Cheney Inc. had no problem setting the stage to ensure that their asses were covered. In fact, much of what they did while in office, INCLUDING launching an unnecessary war, has been all in the name of profit, greed, and cronyism. Period.
As a libertarian, I believe in free markets. I believe in capitalism. I believe in low taxes, and as little government as possible. I believe that earners should be able to keep as much of what they make as possible, and government should take as little as possible. So it’s easy to see the conflict that exists for libertarians like myself. Isn’t the lack of oversight, regulation, and ethics why we’re in the shit we’re in now? What about the most basic libertarian credo that government not intervene in companies when they fail in any way shape or form? So much for “capitalism”.
And the answer to that question is, painfully, yes. I have always made the argument that despite my libertarian beliefs, there still has to be a force that can counter unbridled corporate influence and exploitation if and when necessary. Otherwise, free markets cease to exist, and things can easily erode into a whole other thing called “Plutocracy” or at the very least, oligarchy. Guess what? This is essentially where we are now.
I have always argued that even in a perfect utopian “libertarian-approved” free-market system, the state would stil need to preserve some power. It would have to be able to step in and intervene if the markets ceased to behave with ethics and corporate responsibility. The state would play the role of chaperone at the party and keep everyone playing nice. It would be a necessary evil to keep free markets truly free and above board.
What has happened in the US (and now unfortunately, the rest of the industrialized world thanks to the US) is that Corporate America acted with complete and total impunity at the expense of the average consumer and worker. They had a hell of party the last ten years at everyone else’s expense. Despite the egregious crimes perpetrated by corporate boards, CEO’s, and other corporate fraudsters, as exposed by documentary films and expose’s like the Oscar-winning “Inside Job”, not ONE person, the truth remains. Not ONE person, NOT ONE, has yet been prosecuted or even charged.
The fact that the financial sector and Wall Street’s top players like Goldman Sachs, Shearson Lehman, Bank of America, and so on, are still largely run by the same criminals who got us in this mess in the first place. The fact that corporations continue to exploit the shitty economy by continuing to export jobs, decimate payrolls while somehow still maintaining healthy profit margins add more insult to injury. Timothy Geithner, who was front and center in the world of finance in the years leading up to and during the meltdown is Obama’s Treasury Secretary for crying out loud!
While I suspect that Obama would like to clean things up more than he has done so far, (to his credit he has spearheaded a regulatory branch for protecting consumers from future financial shitstorms and pushed through some other legislative reforms, though far from sufficient), it’s also clear that he knows his limitations on what he can actually do. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, his hands are tied.
Why? Well that’s easy. Corporate America is STILL IN CHARGE. The plutocrats and oligarchs have not yielded one iota of power or influence to the masses in an effort to make things better. Whether anyone admits it or not, they still own the fucking place. In the grand scheme of things, nothing has really changed. The US has evolved into a rather large “banana-republic style” oligarchy. Where less than 20% of the population owns over 85% of the country’s total wealth (and those figures are based on 2007 numbers, it’s only HIGHER now).
So enter the Occupy Wall Street” movement. Where apparently enough people have FINALLY had enough of the brazenness of Corporate America to take to the streets. The protests have spread to other cities and even out west as far as Los Angeles. In New York, the NYPD has not been scoring points with the press for how they have been handling the demonstrators. Especially when you consider that they have made almost 1000 arrests as of today.
Don’t get me wrong, this is all good. People definitely should voice their discontent at the outrageous behavior instigated by “the institution” thus far. Enough is definitely enough. It’s great that celebs like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have jumped into the fray to draw even more attention to the rousing discontent. If anything, it will just further expose the the blatant greed and bullshit farther down the line. It will wake more people up in the process. The more people are made aware and educated, the more that can only be a good thing.
But, alas, all of this activity and protest will ultimately ring hollow. It will change NOTHING. Sure, there will be some political grandstanding as a result of it, no doubt. Some politically bullshit legislation will get passed with a fancy name like “The Financial and Corporate Reform Act of 2011” and much ballyhoo and celebration will follow. It will be loaded with loopholes, exceptions and backdoors that will basically render it useless. I suspect that will happen just before if not just after the next election. Mark my words.
And it still won’t mean bollocks.
What people need to realize here is that they need to stop being part of the game that is being played. Whether they know it or not, the game can only go on if they continue to play. Stop the way they are doing things now. Ending “business as usual” is the ONLY WAY that these corporate behemoths are going to topple. Not subscribing to the “game” as it has been laid out by the institution is the only way things will change. It will require a MAJOR paradigm shift in the way American workers and consumers do things. That much is clear. But it’s the ONLY WAY.
So, how do people initiate change? How do “we” as a collective national (and global) force CHANGE THE GAME? It will require a non-apologetic, harsh, complete and total institutional kick in the nuts.
So what to do, you ask? Despite the fact that I have absolutely NO authority to speak on the subject, no formal training whatsoever on economics or finance (everything I learned was from hard-knock school of finance, investment, and business), I shall dispense the following specific advice. And I warn you, some serious cojones and major intestinal fortitude will be required:
1. Close all your bank accounts. That’s right, close them ALL. Savings, Checking, Money Market, CD’s, IRA’s, EVERYTHING. Withdraw, and close. Your money that sits in these accounts is the fuel that the institution’s economic engines run on. You’re getting little if any interest, and your money is being exploited in ways you can only imagine. Get it all out. Now. It is time for the banking industry in the US get a complete and total “no-confidence” vote.
You’re better off keeping your money buried in your yard or under your mattress than in a bank account. Just bury it well. Or, put it in GOLD (Shameless plug warning -I recommend Bullion Vault 🙂 ) If you need some kind of “banking services” like checks, bill-paying, debit cards, and whatnot, and yes you probably will, just open an account at your local NON-PROFIT or NOT FOR PROFIT credit union. You will receive WAY better treatment and service than your bank dished out and your money will not be shamelessly exploited at your expense. And best of all… you’ll pay way less in the way of fees, interest and other costs. You can even utilize credit unions for your business’ banking needs. It’s a no-brainer. Oh, by the way,if you’re still a Bank of America customer, especially after reading this, you’re an idiot. Sorry to be bearer of bad news.
2. Cut up your credit cards (and cancel the accounts, no cheating). That’s right. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the whole concept of consumer credit is a total and complete scam. Easy credit is what drove most people into financial deep shit in the first place. It has essentially turned banks and other financial institutions into glorified loan sharks, and people into terrified, bankrupt victims who can be further exploited.
Exceptions? If you have a credit card that you can pay off every month, suck up a bunch of reward miles or points that you can utilize down the road somewhere for a free trip to Aruba or a nice hotel, then fine. Otherwise, bye-bye to the plastic.
3. Be prepared to become a professional deadbeat if necessary. Ok, so you’ve run up a high credit card balance over the years. You’ve paid on your cards faithfully for years on your balance and accrued interest. You should have a great standing with your banks. Right? Wrong. You lose your job, and now can’t even afford your minimum payment anymore without jeopardizing your rent or other bills. You call your bank and tell them you’re having problems. Instead of working with you until you get another job and/or things get better, they say “yeah right, that’s too bad…”, jack up your rate 28.99% or higher, and nail you with late fees. You run yourself ragged trying to keep up with the escalating charges and ever-growing balance until your whole financial world around you crashes and burns.
Sound familiar? Sound like a possible outcome for you? The answer is simple. Call your bank and tell them they better work with you, right now, or they shall not receive a red cent again from you again. Ever. That’s right. Ever. You won’t pay. Not a dime.
Yes, your bank or their collectors will try to scare you with all kinds of horrible threats and other shit. They are masters at that. You will lose everything. Your credit will be decimated (so what? It probably is already anyway because you fell behind). You’ll end up in court, and much more mayhem will befall you. Whatever. They have the option to work with you or not. If they don’t, all bets are off. Refuse their mail, their bills, their notices, change your phone number or disconnect your landline. Ignore them. And deal with what REALLY matters like keeping your roof over your head, your kids fed, and your lights on.
This advice applies to any exploitative consumer loans you may have incurred. Tell them, oh well, shit happens. It’s your way or the highway. Remember, they can’t take nothing from nothing. You have nothing to lose even if things really go to shit. They have everything to lose. As in more loans written off.
This same stance should be adopted if dealing with possible foreclosure, or any other delinquency. I know it sounds harsh and potentially damaging to your financial future. But then again, so does paying usurious interest and late fees endlessly due to no fault of your own. Your top priority is YOU. Not keeping your banks paid up. If something has to give, let it be them and what you owe.
4.Change the way you buy and shop. Look at where your money goes. It’s really easy you know. Take a close look at the places you shop, and the products you buy. The brands you buy. Then follow the money. Where does it go after it leaves your hands? Simply evaluate each of those brands and companies for their general standing on corporate behavior, ethics, job creation, and other responsibilities that are beholden to them as corporations. Do they funnel money to offshore companies to thwart paying legitimate taxes? Stop buying from them. Do they pay exploitative wages and abuse their workers in the name of profit? Stop buying from them. Do they exploit their market standing and lack of competition to levy higher prices for their products or services? STOP BUYING FROM THEM. Do you drive your car more than you should? Thus enriching oil companies needlessly? STOP DRIVING YOUR CAR SO MUCH. Get it?
The consumer, even in this ridiculously slanted game, still wields enormous economic power. But any action has to be on a massive and concerted scale. Thanks to that little thing called the INTERNET, there is tremendous information available to anyone to get educated. Use it.
5. Publicly boycott, vilify, and humiliate any company or organization that has been exposed for corruption, fraud, or any kind of corporate irresponsibility. And DO NOT STOP. That’s right, negative publicity is the BANE of corporations. They hate it. It keeps their bigwigs up at night. It messes up their stock price, hits their bottom line, affects sales, projections, profit margins and much, much more. The voice of consumers can nail greedy companies right where it hurts. But it takes a blatant collective effort and action. And it has to be SPECIFIC AND TARGETED. And oh yeah, don’t BUY FROM THEM.
6. (FREE BONUS ADVICE!) – If you are currently paying for comprehensive health insurance (vs. your employer), and are in reasonably good health, cancel your policy. Today. Yep, that’s right, cancel it. You’re better off pocketing the money you’re paying in premiums and socking it away in a medical savings account (at your credit union, right??) rather than piss it away on a health plan that’s going to end up screwing you when you need it anyway. Simply SAVE the money, sock it away and keep it handy for any medical emergency that may ensue.
Whatever you’re paying, particularly if you have a family, it’s too much and you won’t get enough help from it when you will ultimately (if ever) need it. Then, after you’ve saved for a year or two and have a nice little base amount socked away, cover yourself for the worst case scenario. Purchase a major medical or hospitalization plan with a high deductible that will cover you in the event you do get hospitalized with a sudden illness or get in a bad accident. Crunch the numbers over 10 or 20 years and see where doing it this way gets you financially vs subscribing to a shitty health plan loaded with loopholes, exceptions and caps.
These few simple but drastic actions, if done by enough people, will seriously change the game. It will dramatically deplete the level of fortune, influence and power that the corporate plutocrats have over your average worker or consumer. It will do wonders to keep the middle class from sliding further into poverty. And at the corporations’ expense for a change, no less. It’s really that simple. Taking action where it REALLY MATTERS is what will shake things up. It will allow the companies that do behave and engage in business ethically and responsibly to rise to the top of their industries and sink the ones that don’t. Hard choices, and tough action have to be made to counter the horrific, criminal, and egregious actions that have been instituted on the US (and less so the world) economy thus far.
This is just the tip of the iceberg by the way. There’s a lot more we can do, such as choose not to work for ridiculously low wages, refuse to accept sub-standard work conditions and policies, and more. But that makes for another manifesto. Let’s focus on first things first. 😛
Whatever you do, make no mistake about one thing. This IS class warfare folks. It is the peasants vs the lords. It is the servants vs the masters. It’s time to storm the proverbial Bastille. Only not with axes and pitchforks (though that’s not too far in the future, if things keep going the way they are), but with your assets, your savings, your wallets, and your buying power. The oligarchical forces that are at work here are no different than those that have been thriving in Latin America over the last three centuries or so.
However, unlike the oligarchies in Latin America’s persistent banana republics, we have a particular advantage. There, the “peons” have little or no power, none politically to speak of. They have little or no choices in their marketplace, the oligarchs see to that. They have no choice but to buy their food, essential products and services from their oligarch overlords. They can do nothing more than launch the occasional mob strike or revolution, and/or contribute to social instability. Most can barely afford to survive much less affect their overlords in any real financial or economic way.
We, on the other hand, in what is left of the “first world”, still hold a significant amount of economic power and leverage. That’s the weakness in the system as it has been set up by these barons. They screwed up. In order for them to win at this game, and maintain advantage, they require the constant economic fuel provided by consumers and the low exploitative wages provided by workers in the lower tiers. We are what keeps the oligarchs and corporations rich and the money supply going. Change the game, and eventually they will need to tap into all the wealth they have hoarded up to maintain their lofty lifestyles. This means reduction of their net worth. Thus, sending more wealth BACK into the economy. It’s called reversing the flow. It’s up to us to start and maintain the reversal. Only then will their wealth, power, and influence deteriorate and things change. And hopefully for the better.
Pick a side. That should be the easy part.