Friday, December 14, 2007

Alan Greenspan Redux: Not My Fault, World Simply "Out of Control"

Xposted to Long Sunday

Making the rounds to defend himself this morning, yet again (against what, exactly. remains ambiguous - certainly any real discussion of his unwillingness to hold up one ounce of truth to power, to admit any responsibility for disastrous ideological complicity or for blatant self-contradictions is not on the table), Alan Greenspan appears on NPR and (again) refrains from the speculative, informed imagining that remains our only chance for survival as a species: global recession is "much more likely" now, he admits, resorting to the tired and simplistic, not to mention falsely-naturalizing disease metaphor, "just like when the immune system is weak," etc. (As always, this metaphor demands to be complicated: our economic "immune system" being in fact at war with itself, as good Derridians everywhere note.) Long-term interest rates around the world are out of control; nothing he could ever do about it.

As with all fantastical conservative evasions of responsibility (read: fundamentalisms), he posits a single apparently isolated and pure Historical Event, significantly just so long enough ago, that invariably "changed everything" - namely, this time, the end of the Cold War - such that any assessment of his actions must be weighed on an equally Epic, distant (hence forgiving) scale. Needless to say, it's an old rhetorical trick employed by those in power - invoking "History" when there are only ever histories, a "recourse" (as they say) made palatable by the desire and fantasy for a genuine leader on the part of a genuinely unempowered, insecure public. (Which may be the only desire more powerful than the desire to ritually condemn and profane some falsely inflated idea or image of an individual, as sacrifice.) It's meant to be reassuring: "You see," our Leader gently condescends, handing us his very own gold-rimmed goggles, "I have always had the Big Picture in mind." "Therefore on my stage, things were simply more out of my control than you realize; here is an Event in light of which my lobbying for tax cuts for the already criminally wealthy inevitably pales."

(Which is not to say there isn't truth to his observation (the end of the Cold War being in many ways worse than the Cold War) , only to note that he is deliberately changing the subject, suggesting another lens for an analysis, and for an infinitely deferred self-placement, which he then neglects to pursue. At all. Which is wise, because in the end it would hardly excuse him any further.)

Two months ago, William Greider in The Nation was even less kind, treating these self-contradictions with the contempt for which, some might say, the circumstances practically scream:
Alan Greenspan has come back from the tomb of history to correct the record. He did not make any mistakes in his eighteen-year tenure as Federal Reserve chairman. He did not endorse the regressive Bush tax cuts of 2001 that pumped up the federal deficits and aggravated inequalities. He did not cause the housing bubble that is now in collapse. He did not ignore the stock market bubble that subsequently melted away and cost investors $6 trillion. He did not say the Iraq War is "largely about oil."

Check the record. These are all lies.

[...]Wall Street loved the Chairman best because the traders and bankers knew he was always on their side and would come to their rescue. The major news media treated him like an Old Testament prophet. Whatever the chairman said was carved on stone tablets, even when it didn't make any sense, as it often didn't.

Some of us who followed his tracks more closely, were not so kind. Harry Reid, now the Democratic Senate leader, said Greenspan was "one of the biggest political hacks in Washington." Amen. I called him "the one-eyed chairman" who could always spot reasons to stomp on the real economy of work and production, but was utterly blind to the destructive chaos in the financial system. No matter. The adoration of him was nearly universal.

Until now. The economic consequences of his rule are accumulating and even the dullest financial reporters are stumbling on crumbs of truth about Greenspan's legendary reign. It sowed profound and dangerous imbalances in the US economy. That's what happens when government power tips the balance in favor of capital over labor, favoring super-rich over middle class and poor, then holds it there for nearly a generation.

Of course, merely castigating Greenspan this way, regardless of the relative power of both his actions and his image (don't the two demand to be analyzed separately?), is also to partake of the same popular (and popular-aspiring) reductive genre, that which inflates his image, indeed religiously as either sacred or profaned, either protected and excused or scandalized and smeared, depending on where one stands in relation to the political forces which mediate his role, still. One pair of lenses forgives all in the name of the political, while the other gives him little credit for being a political creature (and to some extent creation) to begin with. Only one, however, has the courage to imagine how things may have been dramatically different. If only Greenspan had had the courage (or the inclination).

nb. One Noam Chomsky on "Saintly Alan Greenspan" those of you with RealPlayer may hear, here.

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