Bankers aren’t the bad guys.

Movies like Inside Job (2010) portray bankers as the slimiest, most unscrupulous, and most detestably base form of ape to ever walk the earth. The likes of JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Citibank are presented as greedy warpers of political policy who avoid jail timei despite their negligence and criminal behaviour. If this narrative is to be believed, it’s the everyman who’s made to suffer so that the fat cats on Wall Street can keep living their lives of boundless extravagance.

In supporting this narrative, states and governments “take bankers to task” with regulations designed to ensure that “this will never happens again” despite the political expediency of exactly the opposite and the bailing out said bankers with other peoples’ (read: your) money. Really, it’s a whole lot of theatre, this.

Still, this show results in the popular construction of finance as a sub-human profession somewhere between child diddler and confidence man. You don’t have to look very far to see this bedeviling manifest, and increasingly so since the spotlight of “shame” was shone on the large US banks following the 2007-2008 bailouts.ii In the past seven years, states and governments broadly speaking and the USG in particular have (for many, cathartically) prosecuted whales, charged a few banks for “money laundering”iii and generally tried to make banking as unprofitable as possible while ensuring that it persists to meet the state’s political objectives.iv

It’s not just the state that benefits from looser credit, either, “the people,” out of their narrow self-interest, are motivated to support economic policies that encourage greater risk taking on behalf of lenders – policies such as giving credit to poor people,v replacing trust with beacon scores, and replacing skin in the game with “home equity.” Sure, this creates moral hazard and inevitably leads to inflation of the currencyvi in the long-term, but those are someone else’s problems!vii You want a new couch now and you don’t want to have to save up to pay for it! Of course, the government also wants you to have a new couch. Not only do they get to charge you tax on it, adding to their coffers, but you keep your dumb head occupied with something as innocuous as leather vs. cloth.

If push comes to shove, and it will because the government will eventually run out of the lower and middle class juices to squeeze, everyone can get together to villainise the lenders who had the audacity to take such “unwarranted” risks with “other peoples’ money,” as if the bankers had a choice in the matter (not that this is the worst thing to have foisted upon you, as long as you can pull the ‘chute before the walls come crumbling down).

The crazy part about this isn’t that bankers still have the gall to keep company with the living and that you’re on the hook for their champagne-fueled benders in Monaco while they do, the crazy part is that generation after generation, you believe governments that, after creating a situation where private financiers are bullied into becoming instruments of the state at your behest, pits you against said financiers and encourage citizens to take up arms to maintain their “dignity.”

Time after time, whether Hitler’s Germany or Portillo’s Mexico or William III’s England, governments throughout history have squeezed financiers six ways to Sunday in an effort to achieve their objective of staying in power as long as possible, which means using the weapons of finance to fund the continued operations of those in the government’s inner circle, and occasionally to throw a bone to “the people.”

As ever, “the people” are happy to be along for the ride, so susceptible are they to emotional arguments and so confused are they by the magical dragon powers of the true 0.01% (and others that are close enough, namely the other 0.99% at the top), that financiers, jooz, etc. are perfectly acceptable scapegoats when the kitty runs dry and a little more squeeze need be applied. Hey, anything works as long as the masses don’t have to address their own failures or those of their corrupt leaders.

Ultimately, however, in swallowing the nonsense spouted off by your government, it’s you and your children who will pay the price. It’s your currency that will be debased at the altar of your easy credit, your consumerist impulses, and your ignorance of political gamesmanship.

So, you see, it’s not the banker that’s the bad guy. It’s you.

___ ___ ___

  1. The only thing too big to jail at the moment is the state. This too shall pass. The wreckers will hang. []
  2. Hell, even the Argentinian Pope is on the “down with bankers” bandwagon. []
  3. Even though no such thing can possibly exist. It’s my money, fuck you. []
  4. While record profits have been the norm in banking of late, keep in mind that this is the same as the box office records, that is, a buck ain’t what she used to be. []
  5. As President Clinton did. []
  6. That last resort of the failed state: printing pictures of dead people on too many pieces of dead trees! []
  7. And what are “morals” anyways ? For most people, it’s what’s popular and convenient. []

10 thoughts on “Bankers aren’t the bad guys.

  1. Leaders are a tool of the times, just as a soldier is a political tool.

  2. mh says:

    Splendid piece Pete. I always wondered why people never could see this. If it’s for sale, of course someone is buying.

  3. […] is really no different than bankers being co-opted by the state and is entirely a function of thermodynamics. Like the bankers, once the protagonists […]

  4. […] straight-up-the-middle Republican bet), just as you’d expect them to. So pharma, agrifood, banks, and real estate are all making the safe, predictable bets, dependent as they are on continual dole […]

  5. […] the spectrum” (and on-the-mark) Christian Bale, and an unbelievably small amount of “bankers are the bad guys” agitpropery, all made for a pretty entertaining film. The thing lacked enough socioeconomic […]

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