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Oh, so sensitive!
By Carmine Gorga
A few months ago I took the unusual position of defending billionaires, not because I expected any expression of gratitude from them, but because I always attempt to chase truth no matter where it leads.
A few months ago in these very pages I defended billionaires against the attacks launched on them, if you can believe it, by two of the people I respect most. I found their attacks to be inappropriate, not because, as I said, they lacked validity, but because they were not fully comprehensive.
Now I feel called to defend Mario Batali against the personal attack that some bankers have launched on him. Although both of Italian descent, and both evidently lovers of good food, perhaps I share little else in common with him. Again, it is my urge to faithfully follow the truth that spurs me to offer this defense.
Mario Batali, as reported by Jeff Bercovici in Forbes of 8 November 2011, in an evident moment of outrage against the blatant injustices of our age, said
So the ways the bankers have kind of toppled the way money is distributed and taken most of it into their hands is as good as Stalin or Hitler and the evil guys…They’re not heroes, but they are people that had a really huge effect on the way the world is operating.
All hell broke loose. Even though Mr. Batali apologized soon after for the intemperance of his words, that was not enough. The issue was never confined to the limits of freedom of speech. As widely reported, many bankers were so offended as to ask for a boycott of Batali’s establishments and even threatened his line of credit.
Are these expressions of vengeance justified? Put words on one scale and actions on the other. Do they weigh the same? It is on this incommensurate reaction of bankers that I would now like to focus our attention.
Why were bankers so sensitive to words?
A few years back a joke made the rounds in heart transplantation circles. Which heart will you choose for your impending transplantation: the heart of a thirty-year old athlete or the heart of an eighty year-old banker?
The choice was for the heart of an eighty-year old banker.
Why? Because the chance was good that the heart of the banker had never been used.
Thanks to Mario Batali now we know that bankers’ hearts are sensitive. Oh, so sensitive!
And what does that mean?
It means either one of two mutually exclusive things: either they are faking their own sensitivity or they are unaware of the devastation that their recent actions have left in their wake. Tertium non datum: there is no other alternative.
The charitable explanation is the second possibility. No, do not look at the situation from your point of view; do not look at the chutzpa of bankers absorbing billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money—when too many people are thrown out of a job into the streets.
Look at the situation from their point of view. Incredible as it may seem from the outside, they are unaware of the consequences of their own actions. No, worse than that. When they become faintly aware, a wealth of commonly widespread rationalizations makes them see only the positive aspects of their actions.
I can pile up mountains of information to prove my point; I shall limit myself to two pieces of evidence.
First, the defensive reaction of the bankers is not localized to New York. In the rest of the country it is worse. Elsewhere in the country there is a counteroffensive against words.
There is even a group, called Job Creators Alliance, a Dallas-based nonprofit that develops talking points and op-ed pieces aimed at shaping the national agenda.
If successful businesspeople do not go public to defend their actions, “they deserve what they’re going to get,” said Bernie Marcus, 82, a founding member of the group and a co-founder of Home Depot.
He is reported not to be worried that speaking out might make him a target of protesters. “Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”
Second, the evidence that many moguls are totally insensitive to the consequences of their actions is in front of our eyes in the daily newspapers. Mitt Romney, one of the propagators of exploitative capitalism is so unaware of the consequences of his actions that he has had the gumption to present himself as a candidate—a candidate for what? For the presidency of the United States! And he has just won the allegiance of the Republican Party for this endeavor.
Not only that, but the chorus of support for his positions is a marvel to behold.
And what is his program of action? Hard to say, since the political discourse this season has been so poor that he has never been pinned down. And in a way, why blame the media for this sorry state? The media report that he follows the politics of “Etch A Sketch”. This is a movable feast to please the audience of the moment.
And the audience is not necessarily being deceived. There is much in his background and in his personal ethics that compels great admiration. But we are not talking of social companionship here; we are talking of leading our country through some of its most difficult periods in history.
What of Mr. Romney’s long term economic program of action?
Surprises would be welcome, but judging from the politics of his supporters and from the heart he poured in his job as a businessman, what is reasonable to expect is more of the same exploitative capitalism that he practiced while at Bain Capital: Money talks; people are silenced. They have no voice; they have no presence. Squeeze any goodness out of a corporation, and then abandon it. I call this Termite Capitalism.
It is simply not true that you create jobs by destroying jobs. Whatever else you do with the “creative destruction” force of capitalism, you do not create jobs; as the current jobless recovery attest, you do not even create the conditions for future growth. You destroy jobs. The jobs were created by the silent inventor and the efficient entrepreneur before the lap dogs of exploitative capitalism started salivating at the smell of their successful performance.
What to do?
The solution for those who find exploitative capitalism intolerable is as ancient as the hills. The solution is two-pronged: Speak truth to power; be aware that a nation without vision will perish.
Speak truth to power. If today’s moguls are apparently unaware of the consequences of their actions, the fault is not theirs. The fault falls upon those who are charged with the task of speaking truth to power, and do not fulfill their obligations. Soon after too many people of faith, I would put most literati on the line of culpability. For the last four hundred or so years, by egotistically chasing windmills for their own cheap pleasure, they have poisoned the public discourse. As if it was not in the great literature of the world, no one knows any more what the truth is.
Strangely enough the most blatant practitioners of this tragedy are the economists. Ask two economists today, you receive three answers—three changing answers as time goes by.
It is perhaps one of the most widely accepted truths in business that the bulk of new jobs is not created by the large, but by the small and middle size corporations. Have you heard any economist, or perhaps better, any organization of economists tell such groups like the Job Creators Alliance that they are not telling the truth to the American people—or the people all over the world, for that matter?
And the issue is bigger than any single truth or any single program of action. The issue is this: Exploitative capitalism is unjust, hence it is unstable. Everyone suffers—even evil moguls (by which I do not mean to imply that all moguls are all evil all the time).
And the issue affects more than any single person or any single group of people.
A nation without vision will perish. There you have it. It has been in the book of essential truths for ever: A nation without vision will perish.
That is why I am coming down so hard on Termite Capitalism and the Mitt Romney Mentality. They see nothing beyond the sugar plums of dollar signs.
Make no mistake about it; don’t let practitioners of exploitative capitalism believe that there is more to the dollar than being a sign.
But a sign of what? A sign of rage in accumulating fewer dollar bills than the guy next door; and fear of losing those plums.
A nation built on rage and fear will perish.
This is not America.
Deep thanks to Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise for invaluable editorial assistance.
Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of The Somist Institute and author of numerous publications in economic theory and policy. Mr. Gorga can be reached at email@example.com. He blogs at www.a-new-economic-atlas.com.