In fiction, and especially in tragedy, the plot cannot be unidirectional – the protagonist must have a fighting chance to win, so the reader roots for him/her right up to the last line. The nemesis also is not certain of victory. So for this look at the plot of our novel “Follow the Money” about the great crash of 2009, we want to suppose our hero, Barack Obama (an Othello of tragedy if ever there was one) comes out smelling like a rose. At least until the final act.
You may wonder how, after I have posted two months worth of naysaying on this blog, I can possible point to the possibility of an ending that promises hope for the future. The simplest way is to pinpoint the hopes and manipulations of the worst of the antagonists and have our protagonist set them up for a fall. The Cairo speech (even though it was only words, and means nothing without the appropriate actions) has hinted that our man has the moxie to strand his opponents out on a limb – and hopefully to cut it off from under them. (This last has yet to be done, but I wait expectantly.)
So we might believe the financial speculators and creators of all the toxic inventions in the derivatives box will want to see the financial rules and markets left untouched to build up into a bubble once more (or twice, thrice, or a hundred times more). Their only interest being to use the market to get rich without actually working for it. They must be foiled and completely destroyed. Since it is unlikely that spineless Democrats in Congress and the Senate will ever have the integrity to pass legislation that accomplishes this plainly and in full public view, our protagonist will have to be really devious in creating an outcome where this happens as a result of the market’s own operation.
The rich – and I mean the super rich, not you hopeful fools who still hope to make your first million – have been allowed to grow immensely richer since the last stock market crash and depression from 1929 into the 30s. You may well believe that the billionaires at the top 2% of our economic tree who own 50% of the wealth will want to ensure that their interests will be protected and their tax shelters and non-existent wealth taxes will remain as active for them in the future, as they have been through all of the last 10 administrations. For society to recover on a new and more positive track – they must be totally disappointed. As the world learned when Revolutionary France sent all the super rich to the guillotine – society can bumble along without them no less efficiently than it did with. (The French Revolution was the precursor to most of our Western freedoms.)
To expand on that – it is axiomatic that capitalist society depends upon its ‘consumers’ (how I hate that word) to not only produce the goods and services that bump up GDP, but they must be wealthy enough to be the purchasers of those goods and services. This no longer happens in the US and other economies where the top few on the economic pyramid grasp the bulk of the wealth for themselves. The result is an unstable economy where consumption has to be financed by credit – read debt – and huge unemployment and hardship is caused when the equity dries up. As it has done with the collapse of the US and UK house price bubbles. It would be wildly utopian to imagine Washington would strike out on a new path to increase the wages and lower the taxes of citizens (now there’s the inclusive word that has dignity) who work, save, invest, and produce the wealth of society, but somehow the dead wood within the Beltway must be tricked into agreeing to exactly that.
I’ll end this post with a little homily. In Britain, towards the end of the Second World War, the people who had endured the hardships and the sacrifices of six years as cogs in the huge war machine were invited to vote in a General Election. To the immense surprise of almost everyone, including that of those kicked out of government, the war leader who everyone presumed was a sure winner, Winston Churchill and his Conservatives, lost to the Labour Party under the completely uncharismatic Clement Atlee.
To those who had served under the British system of privilege and the old-boy network for those years it was no surprise. The vestiges of that parody of democracy were still evident fifteen years later when I did my stint in the army, but it had been cut off at the knees and was merely taking time to die. (Until Thatcher gave it artificial resuscitation.) The biggest millstones that the socialist government took from around the necks of the British were three, and they were all undercut by one measure. Pre-war Britain was still a fief of the wealthy land owning class – the lords and ladies – who had been weakened by the First World War but not knocked out for the count. They owned a huge percentage of the land and of the infrastructure that people – and the new capitalists – needed to control in order to build new industries.
This archaic hold-over was hewn down by the huge death duties passed into legislation by the Labour dominated Parliament. In order to pay these assessments upon the deaths of Lord Soandso, and the Earl of Somewherelse, these holdings that sometimes stretched back to Norman times had to be liquidated. I saw the changes in my own life as I grew up. The first noticeable effect was the transformation of the drab villages around us – where everyone used to be a tenant of the local aristocrat – when the tenants were given the opportunity to buy and improve their dwellings. The second was an expansion of the freedom to trade land as freehold property instead of leasehold (buying land before 1945 was a case of buying a lease term of some years on the land, which remained the property of the aristocratic estate). This freed up more real estate for development. The third was the Butler Education Act which opened all higher education to low income students who were bright enough to win scholarships. I owe my own education to this act – as do almost all those educated there in the past sixty years – the Stephen Hawkings and the Francis Cricks, as well as a significant number of the engineers who flooded into US industry after 1955..
Death duties are the godsend of society. Set at the appropriate level they are the rejuvenator of a moribund economy and the resuscitator of a moribund establishment. Everything in nature dies to make room for the new and the healthy – societies need this too.