The recent Mother Jones has a couple of excellent pieces on the financial meltdown.  David Corn’s article, “Thank You, Sir. May We Have Another?” asks the question as to why, in the face of extravagant bonus paid to bank executives, meager policy reform and an overall return to the status quo, why have Americans reacted so poorly?  That is to say, where is the populist rage that one would have expected, given our current milieu of Tea Party’s and town hall meetings?

 He offers a few answers broken into subsections, ranging from “Politicians Don’t Care,” to it’s about “Fear, Not Loathing,” to “Big Business vs. Big Government,” to “It’s Complicated” and there’s just “Too Many Targets.”  This piece is notable precisely by the very thing it’s lacking: where’s the alternative to the dominant system?  Corn, despite his brilliant reporting and populist rage, still seems to want to hold on to that liberal kernel that contends that all we really have to do is reform and get back to a capitalism with a smiley face. If I were writing Corn’s piece, I would have added to his litany a subsection on, “We Still Believe There’s No Better Economic System Out There.”   

 As long as we base exchange on abstract contract and offer no viable alternative, why would one except an uprising?  Writ large, we still seem to expect some moral compunction from the system even though in our daily practice we don’t really want morality (one hears often phrases like, “buyer beware” and “it’s not personal, it’s just business”).  I’m too young to recall the George Bailey days of banking, but I can’t help but believe that was a fleeting moment that simply cannot exist under the contours of the system.  

 What are we left with?  We merely rail against the excesses of the system; against the Madoff’s or Goldman Sachs, but don’t seem to see that they are not bumps in an otherwise smooth functioning machine, but the logical outcome.  Greed is not only “good,” but is the very substance of our world.  

 Interestingly, it’s been the religious who have proposed alternatives; some “middle way” between an unconstrained markets and centralized governments.  They of course were also the ones who said most assuredly that greed is not good.  Instead, one should seek self-sacrifice and cultivate conviviality; otherwise known as charity.

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