“Have the poor suckers of this world ever lived in an age that offered such entertainment? Costly, to be sure, and they are the ones who are going to pay for it, but at least they are getting to watch some wonderful burlesque–first the pirates of a fraudulent system of communism forced to scuttle their own ship, and then the pirates of a fraudulent system of capitalism beginning to do the same.
So long as their focus was on Eastern Europe, our press and politicians couldn’t talk enough about ‘the triumph of capitalism and democracy.’ But now that they begin reluctantly to concentrate on piracy at home, they are–perhaps because so many of them are part of that piratical crew–understandably reluctant to admit the obvious: that our system is just as bogus and corrupt and irrelevant and defeated in its own way, offering neither the risks of true capitalism nor the safeguards of true democracy. Our system is a hoax.
If anyone still had faith in the system, the savings and loan adventure surely must have brought him to his senses and to his knees. The gambling debt of $500 billion ($150 billion plus interest and other incidentals)–or will it be, as some economists predict, a trillion four?–that the S&L industry left with the taxpayers has prompted even that deadpan Tory, George Will, to remark in wonderment, ‘We seem to have a capitalism here in which profits are private and we socialize the losses. Why are we, in effect–if you’re big enough, if you’re a huge bank or a savings and loan–why, in effect, are we guaranteeing everything?…What I’m asking is isn’t there a way to reform the system so that the taxpayers don’t get stuck with what happens when you have deregulation and risk taking that goes wrong?”
The answer to his question is: No, there is no way to reform the present system, because the system is owned and controlled by those who are ruining it. Voters, ordinary taxpayers, have nothing to say about it.”
That is from the opening paragraphs of Robert Sherill’s majestic, troubling essay “The Looting Decade: S&Ls, Big Banks, and Other Triumphs of Capitalism,” which was published as a special issue of The Nation back on November 19, 1990. I was assistant editor of The Nation then, and I had the privilege of working closely with Sherrill on that essay, along with a great group of intern/factcheckers (who amazingly enough included one Nicholas Clegg, who is now the leader of the British Liberal-Democratic Party!).
I’ve been asking my old friends at The Nation to get the full text of The Looting Decade up on their website, but they have their hands full at the moment. So, I’m posting the .pdf here for your downloading pleasure, and making an appeal: if you can help me get the text converted into .html and posted, please let me know asap.
In the meantime, as I have time I will post more choice excerpts. If you want to understand today’s Wall Street meltdown, you have to start at the beginning, in the 1980s, when the deregulators first started running amok.