The nature and extent of ethical and financial kudzu
Other reviews have (collectively) covered most of the most important points to be made about this book and now, with the publication of a paperbound edition, I hope those points have a wider audience. As I began to read this book, sharing Charles Ferguson’s opinions about “where we are now” as a nation, I was reminded of two film characters: Gary Cooper as “John Doe” in a film directed by Frank Capra, Meet John Doe (1941), and Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet. However different their circumstances are, and however dated each film may now seem, both suggest the potential power of collective resistance to a common enemy, in this instance what Ferguson characterizes as those responsible for “a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud”; however, “not a single executive has gone to jail.” Ferguson received an Academy Award for the best documentary film, Inside Job, in 2010. “Since the release of my film, a large amount of new material has emerged, especially from private lawsuits, that reveals, through e-mail trails and other evidence, that many bankers, including senior management, knew exactly what was going on, and that it was high fraudulent.”
There seem to be Ferguson’s key points:
o Finance has become the dominant industry in the United States
o An abundance of verifiable evidence suggests that this industry has become criminalized
o One result is that other industries have been corrupted and/or weakened
o Federal/state/county/municipal agencies are unwilling and/or unable to enforce laws
o With few exceptions, governments at all levels are bankrupt
o Only the federal government can print money
o Fax tax collections (as a share of GNP) are lowest in 60 years
o The gap between cost of living and quality of life has almost disappeared
o The wealthiest individuals and most profitable companies enjoy the greatest tax reductions
o Both the Democratic and Republican parties have become hostage to special interest groups
o The damage to middle- and lower-class taxpayers has been bi-partisan
“What Should Be Done?” is the title of the final chapter in which Ferguson offers several specific suggestions and explains why each should be adopted. They include these: improve education quality and opportunity, get the financial sector under control, achieve high-impact reform of political finance as part of major transformation of tax structure, strengthen anti-trust policy and regulation of corporate governance, and create a truly “open” (i.e. universally accessible) Internet infrastructure.
I wish I shared Ferguson’s belief that these and other initiatives can be successful. The John Doe character was a fraud and the Howard Beale character was insane. It may be possible but seems unlikely that an individual can summon sufficient support to defeat the Predator Nation. Charles Ferguson’s call for an insurgency within one of the two major political parties, a third political party, and/or a non-artisan social movement is more likely but, in my opinion, a long shot.
“Time will tell. But America is a remarkable and beautiful country in so many ways. I hope that somewhere in the United States is a courageous young leader in the making, someone who can persuade the American people to rise up and throw the rascals out.” I agree that “time will tell” but I’m not holding my breath.