Saturday, June 9, 2012

Revisiting a Bad Decision

While reading Stephen Hinton’s new book, Weill’s Musical Theater, I came across a line by Bertolt Brecht the seemed to resonate strongly:
What’s breaking into a bank compared with founding a bank?
The line was from the original script for Happy End; and, when that production did not succeed, it migrated into a revised text for Threepenny Opera. The reason it resonated was that it reminded me of a book that attracted a lot of attention when our Congress was debating whether or not to bail out all of those banks in September of 2009. The book was by William K. Black, former Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. The title of the book was The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.

In tracking the impact of this book during the bailout debate, I discovered that one of Black’s champions was Representative Chip Shields, who used Black’s title as the title for one of his posts to the Daily Kos. It turned out that Brecht’s line showed up in a comment to this post submitted by “LNK” on behalf of Media Reform Action. As we now know (and as we knew almost as soon as the bailout was approved), Shields’ appeal to reason both before and after the vote on the bailout had no effect.

The problem was that Shields and his fellow Progressives could not appreciate the magnitude of the opposition that faced them. This was the opposition of those who own “the material conditions of labour” (in the words of Karl Marx) but are concerned with profit through the exchange of what they own, rather than in the efforts and results of the laborers. Brecht basically took the lessons that Marx was trying to teach through his study of political economy and dramatized those lessons by recognizing that, in terms of the very principles through which one succeeds at banking, the successful banker is neither better nor worse than the successful bank robber.

The problem, however, is that those who controlled those “material conditions of labour” also controlled the consciousness industry, otherwise known as the mass media. Through that control, one did not have to silence the Progressives, because it was sufficient to ignore them and make sure that mass media did the same. More drastic action was only necessary when one of those voices began to attract enough attention from the public that the media could no longer ignore him/her. At that point the strategy turned from benign neglect to character assassination, as we saw in the case of Eliot Spitzer. Meanwhile, the 1% go about their business turning exchange into profit as we become a country no longer capable of producing value and, as a result of consciousness industry propaganda, not particularly caring that we have let those skills slip away from us.

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