Opinion

WALLY'S WORLD: Understanding economy too tough for us

In case you haven’t heard, those with liberal political views have a new hero: Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi. Taibbi has put together a book called “Griftopia,” which refers to the elite people and corporations that control the world’s economy. In it, he analyzes the U.S. financial system and the recession we finally seem to be crawling out of. No matter what your political affiliation, even if you’re a little to the right of the Tea Party, you’ll probably find this well-researched, best-seller quite fascinating.

At the outset, Taibbi points out that the world’s economy is immensely complex. The overwhelming majority of Americans have neither the time, patience, nor mathematical ability to comprehend it, so “we are completely at the mercy of a small group of people who do understand,” he writes. The nation’s life-altering, high-financial decisions that will have a direct and profound effect on everyone around the dinner table are made mostly in private, proverbial “smoke-filled” back rooms, by groups of lawyers, lobbyists, investment bankers, Wall Street execs and government officials. We simply trust these people to do the right thing.

Well, our trust was apparently sadly misplaced. Even in your wildest, most diabolical imagination, you couldn’t have believed what these people did. For example, it was reported Washington Mutual sold a $615,000 house to a $9-an-hour Mexican immigrant who could hardly speak English. His monthly payments took 97 percent of his take-home income.

What kind of screwy, damned nonsense is this?

As you may know, such cases weren’t at all unusual a few years ago. There were hundreds of thousands of them.

Then, through a complicated system of mathematical calculations, such worthless mortgages were given AAA financial ratings. Banks all across America started to jettison T-bills and municipal bonds and exchange them for AAA-rated, good-for-nothing paper because that’s where the money seemed to be.

Many major banks thought they had bought insurance protection for risky mortgages from various insurance companies in the American Insurance Group, but came to find out these insurance companies didn’t have any money to cover the bets. The companies either thought the risky loans would not default or else never planned to pay out if they did.

Yet, despite such rip-offs and criminal excesses, many Wall Street firms and investment banks, like Goldman Sachs and AIG, were simply too big to fail. If they had gone bankrupt, the whole American economy would have buckled and collapsed, so the U.S. government was forced to bail them out.

According to Taibbi, major brokerages and investment banks are simply casinos. No more and no less. And like common casinos, the owners always win, whether the investors succeed or fail.

Still, to this day, Wall Street and the banks don’t generally feel they’ve done anything wrong and have refused to apologize. They remain completely devoted to the high-finance axiom: if Wall Street makes money, it’s good for everyone. It’s the old idea of trickle-down economics.

Taibbi is surely a bit biased. He more or less ignores any evidence that is contrary to his central theme of high-finance corruption and illegal chicanery. For example, some of the junk mortgages may not have been entirely a result of corporate greed. The Bush administration had put considerable pressure on major banks to open and relax credit rules so home ownership would be possible for a whole class of people who previously couldn’t afford homes.

But, even allowing for Taibbi’s prejudices, there’s no denying facts, interviews and sworn testimony. And believe me, friends and neighbors, there’s something rotten in the money-changing towers of Lower Manhattan.

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