Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Break up the banks?

Whenever I participate in any sort of community activity or go to a party in NYC, most of the people I meet either work for banks or hedge funds, or have partners or spouses who do. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am hugely unhappy about both the big banks and the hedge funds, and a stringent critic of the “financialization” of US and world society. “The Big Short” had no bigger fan than me, and neoliberalism no more fervent scourge, as my academic writing attests, since as early as 2010, and some readers of my book think I am far too critical of, and angry about, neoliberalism for their tastes. I am, and have been for many years, outraged at how unequal our society has become. As  Elena Ferrante puts it so brilliantly in The Story of the Lost Child, the last of her Neapolitan novels, "the exploitation of man by man and the logic of maximum profit, which before had been considered an abomination, had returned to become the linchpins of freedom and democracy everywhere." 
       But when a bohemian, left-wing, passionately egalitarian intellectual like me, in all areas of their life continually meets  people working in the financial-services industry, “break up the banks!” sounds a bit tinny. New York with respect to the financial-services industry is now what Detroit was to the automobile industry in the 1950s: a company town. I do not extol this; but I do recognize it. I was, for instance against the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era bill which put a wall between banking and financial services, which was to the huge disadvantage of the everyday consumer, but you can’t just bring Glass-Steagall back and expect the financial world to revert to the way it was before. Neoliberalism has changed our society and our world—mostly to the worse. But we just can’t go back to the way things were before: we have to reform carefully in ways that acknowledge the situation on the ground, Mayor de Blasio, for all his stalwart progressivism and criticism of rising income inequality, has recognized this and has recognized change has to come incrementally and through a revaluation of social goals and not just trying to put the genie of financialization back in the bottle. Mayor de Blasio has also, unlike Senator Sanders, included racial and gender inequality, not just economic inequality, as part of his explicit agenda. 
    This is why I am supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Not only do I believe she is the most qualified candidate, the one with the most competence as a leader, the greatest grasp of policy, and the most empathetic understanding of the condition of the poor, the underprivileged, and the passed-over in America today, I believe she understands that, as President you have to lead the nation that is actually there, not the one you wish was there. 
    I would like it if New York CIty had a more diversified economy, one less dependent on the financial sector. I would like it if the people I met were not all working for Wall Street in one way or another, or were not connected to those who did. But we have to reform the economy we have. Hillary Clinton understands this.