Scissors, paper, and pens were strewn across the carpet today when I came across this Frontline documentary, Age of Easy Money. The first thing that came to my mind at 0:17 was,
Who is “we?”
I wrote this based on the questions that arose for me within the first five minutes, so I don’t know if they get answered later in the documentary, but I felt the need to examine exactly who this “we” is.
If we’re talking about financial markets, “we” doesn’t include me or the vast majority of individuals who are subject to its whims, because “we” are not “providing the means to trade.” If “providing the means to trade” is a driving factor of the economy, that leads to the next cascade of questions:
Who is providing the means to trade? aka:
Who drives the economy?
Who received the easy money, the subject or at least the title of the documentary, that put the global economy in dire straits?
What individuals were responsible for the downstream effects that touch billions of lives?
In rhetoric, there’s a reason the who is not defined. I’ll be optimistic and say that the omission stems from the underlying modern assumption that we are all equal -- so to define who, in rhetoric, would be redundant. Who means all, duh.
(How the well-intentioned liberal assumption that “all men are created equal” became the backdoor man will have to be the subject of another essay on another day.)
At the risk of being redundant -- rhetoric can’t be redundant. If the purpose of rhetoric is to be convincing or wield language with skill, it also has to be tight. There’s no room for messy definitions in YouTube soundbites.
But we have to ask --
Who got the easy money?
The money I’ve earned over the past twenty-four years hasn’t felt easy*. And I know I’m not alone.
One of the problems is that “the primary engine of our economic growth” as a nation runs like a corporation. Banks easily disguise themselves as objective, neutral institutions. Their main job is to be a piggy bank and hold money, right?
A bank runs like any other for-profit business in that its main goal is value growth for its shareholders. To have banks so intricately interwoven into our “democratic institutions,” as the gentleman says at 0:53 seconds, is the Devil hiding in plain sight.
A Central Bank is defined as: a public institution that manages the currency of a country or group of countries and controls the money supply – literally, the amount of money in circulation. The main objective of many central banks is price stability.
Federal Reserve Banks are set up like private corporations. So what happens when the institution that runs money for everyone, doesn’t have everyone’s interest in mind?
What happens when the well-off get so well-off that price stability is no longer a concern to them? Regulation! someone might bark. You mean the same regulation that allowed SVB, Credit Suisse, and Signature Bank to fail last month? What about the economic downturn of 2007-2009, now called The Great Recession?
The “pain” they talk of in the documentary around 4:51 won’t touch those with the highest incomes. Pain is relative, so they might feel it’s painful to not buy that fourth yacht or take that fifth vacation, but common sense as well as the actual condition of asset poverty would argue that this is a very different pain than a child living with their parent in the recesses of a stairwell because the common person’s income hasn’t grown in tandem with inflation. Inflation means the money we earn during the hours we work covers less and less every day, and since the hours in the day don’t grow, this causes many of us to live paycheck to paycheck, or one emergency away.
“The third of the month is when the late fee will apply. Please pay today,” says the email from my apartment management on this bank holiday, as I anxiously wait for a transfer to move from savings to checking to cover the difference I owe. I pay anyway, before I have sufficient funds, to avoid the $60 fee, knowing that if the deductions hit before the transfer I’ll be overdrawn. There will be nothing left in my checking account, and yet, counter-logically, I’ll be charged hundreds more in penalty fees.
Who deserves the real penalty when: “We lived in a bubble in a dream, and the dream in the bubble is bursting.”
But again: Who is we?
These words at the end of the first chapter of the documentary poetically illustrate the inequity inherent in the current financial crisis that many, not all, of us are experiencing.
I have never personally lived in a bubble. Many U.S. citizens have not had the privilege of living in a bubble because we couldn’t afford the minimum balance to enter.
So what happens when their bubble bursts?
Web3 and decentralization aren’t a cure-all, nor are they guaranteed to correct the current economic system that is choking with free radicals**. But as long as we’re alive we have to try, right? The ship is headed for the cliffs and the storm is powerful, but there are billions of us on this ship and together we can steer it back to harbor.
I think it was Ana from TYT who said that the benefits in a closed system like this are privatized, but the consequences are public.
And if you’re wondering what business a poet has discussing economics, in the words of my Daddy:
**”Free radicals are unstable atoms. To become more stable, they take electrons from other atoms,” causing cancer and aging. This metaphor veers on the edge of literal in that US Big Ag takes our money and in exchange we get cancer from the plastic that they advertise as shelf-stable food.
If you’re reading this, I love you. And if you’re not, I also love you, because love is the only real thing. In the elegant words of a skilled lyricist I admire: