Who wants to be the pinprick
inside a bubble?
By M J AKBAR
IT OFTEN needs a startling
image to convey the dimensions of a crisis. Bloggers have time to
discover such startling analogies. Someone on the net has had the time
and patience to conjure up this image about $700 billion, the most
dramatic figure among the many mountains of cash that Governments have
doled out to capitalism's poster boys in order to save capitalism.
If you stacked up $700 bn in
100-dollar bills (100, not 10 or 1), it would climb 54 miles into the
sky. If you counted one billion at the rate of one digit a second, you
would need 30 years. 700 billion? Donít begin.
Would you want to add the
British crisis-management fund to this? On 7 October Britain announced
an $87 billion rescue package for its banks, and offered a guarantee
of $200 billion more. How high would you have to go if you added Japan
and other nations to the list? And this is only the start of a story
whose end is outside the comprehension of all the pontiffs who, with
the support of obedient priests in politics and media, have turned
unrestrained economic reform into the sole morality of our times. This
is the bailout for a few companies. A western nation, Iceland, is
trembling on the brink of a meltdown and no one knows quite what to
do. Iceland itself does not know whether it needs $5 billion or a
multiple of that. A desperate Gordon Brown is trying to protect
British investments by threatening Iceland with sanctions, as if it
was a renegade Iran.
What do the great
capitalists plan to do with this waterfall of cash? Some of them think
that the party can continue as before. Executives of the world's
largest insurance company, AIG, which has already picked up $ 85bn and
is thirsting for more, celebrated in the only way they know. They
gathered at a top California beach resort for an eight-day jamboree
and ran up a tab for $ 440,000, including pedicures, massage, golf and
cocktails. (Former American ambassador to India Frank Wisner is vice
president for foreign relations at AIG, but he was not part of such
It has yet to strike anyone
serious ó at least to my knowledge ó that throwing away money is not
the best way to protect a system that has been shattered at
fundamental points by a basic tenet of the capitalist faith, greed.
The last decade has seen the escalation of greed into a primary
virtue. The rise of executive salaries and bonuses is only one aspect.
In our country, Governments have watched benevolently as some crooks
masquerading as wizards have raped funds given to them in trust by
shareholders. The Government, impelled by World Bankers, would have
tied the Indian economy fiscally into the West much more deeply.
Prakash Karat is right when he claims that the Left prevented the UPA
Government from becoming a handmaiden of the American economy. With
organisations like Morgan Stanley now an integral part of capital
markets, India cannot escape the consequences of haemorrhage in New
York, but it can yet avoid free fall.
Capitalism is in trouble
because reality became a version of caricature. Growth became a cloak
for venality. Everyone placed on the watch went to sleep. American
commentators now admit that warning flags went up 18 months ago, and
action should have been taken a year ago at the very latest. But who
wants to be the pinprick inside a bubble?
No free ride goes on
forever. George Bush thought his would continue for the duration of
his term; better men than him might never have seen the tsunami, but
he has been blind to anything but his whims for many years now. In a
democracy, if systems and institutions do not hold you accountable,
the people eventually do.
There was something a little
funny about the apoplectic Republican at a John McCain town hall
meeting railing at the prospect of a "Socialist" being elected
President. You did not need exceptional insight to read his mind: in
that closed and narrow mental chamber, every Black was a Socialist and
that was only the least of his sins. A survey conducted by Stanford
University, The Associated Press and Yahoo completed in September
showed that some 10 per cent of white America was irredeemably racist,
and that another 6 per cent was unconsciously prejudiced in the sense
that he or she would make a racial decision without believing that
this was the decisive factor. It is obvious that the Republicans have
concluded that the only factor that can save them now is colour. John
McCain's slur, when he called Barack Obama "That one!", was crafted to
arouse subliminal and overt hatreds. The Republican effort is to
arouse demons in the 6 per cent that is not aware it has demons. In
other words, Barack Obama has to lead by about 12 per cent in order to
win by perhaps 2 per cent . It is safe to assume that if Hillary
Clinton had been candidate she would have been ahead by 15 per cent
History cannot be made
without luck. Obama needed much luck to become candidate. He is of
mixed descent rather than pure African-American; his mother was white,
and he is devoted to his white grandparents who gave him love and a
home. A high percentage of young voters are no longer of pure ethnic
descent; the nation has become a genetic melting point as well. But
that could carry him to the nomination, not to the White House. Obama
needed divine intervention to become President. He prays effectively.
He got it. If this crisis had broken a few weeks later, it would have
been too late for him. The seismic shift came at the precise moment
when it was needed, when he was lagging in the polls and the election
was drifting away from him despite eight years of Bush. As long as the
colour of failure was only black or Latino-brown, the White House was
effectively safe for Republican America. But the crisis has sent a
shudder of dread into the heart of white middle-class America.
Hands will be trembling when
they reach the ballot, but they will no longer tremble only at the
thought of putting a dark man with a strange name into the White
House. They will also tremble in anger at the prospect of a lifetime's
savings destroyed and confidence in the immediate future. It is that
tremble that could shift their finger away from the Bush-McCain button
on 4th November.
Will a President Obama change anything when he inherits a situation
teetering on chaos in the last week of January 2009? No. That would
mean stretching his luck a bit too far, and he will have exhausted
much of his quota of luck reaching the White House. There is a more
important reason why he will not do anything radical. No one yet knows
what there is to do.
The radical answer for the
Right is to discover capitalism without capitalists, and no one has
any ideas about how to weave a route towards such idealism.
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