Thursday, August 18, 2011

Further Thoughts on Who is Represented and How

In his latest post to NYRBlog, “As Ohio Goes: A Letter from Tea-Party Country,” Timothy Snyder takes, as a point of departure, the motto behind the Boston Tea Party:

No taxation without representation.

Here is where Snyder then goes with it:

Taxation without representation is not exactly a problem for wealthy Americans. They are represented by their local, state, and federal elected officials. They are also represented by campaign contributions, lobbies, and personal political access. Their problem, and the country’s, is that they are over-represented, and use their over-representation to ensure that the wealthy pay lower taxes than they should. If we must resort to analogies from the eighteenth century, then those who benefit from the Tea Party are not to be to compared to the American rebels. They are rather the lords of the British parliament, using superior political power to ensure that those in weaker positions bear the necessary burden of taxes.

Yesterday we got a sobering taste of just how far this kind of representation can extend.  Thanks to Darcy Flynn, former attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and now whistleblower, the representative power of the wealthy seems to have penetrated the core of our financial regulatory system.  Here is how BBC News reported the story:

According to an SEC attorney-turned-whistleblower, Darcy Flynn, the regulator has destroyed more than 9,000 files on preliminary investigations since the early 1990s.

The records, termed matters under inquiry, are said to include interviews and tip-offs about a range of alleged financial misconduct.

Mr Flynn told Sen [Charles] Grassley the watchdog had destroyed files linked to Bernard Madoff, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and hedge fund SAC Capital.

Sen Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, wrote on Wednesday to the SEC asking if it routinely destroys documents on preliminary inquiries when it is decided that they do not merit a formal investigation.

For those unfamiliar with how this system works, the SEC has five commissioners appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.  While it is also the case that no more than three commissioners can be from a single political party, what this implies is that those behind any accusations of lax regulation regarding the too-big-to-fail institutions enumerated above, all of which contributed to our current economic crisis, were all appointed by George W. Bush.  This does not suggest that the smoking gun that killed our economy can be found in the Oval Office, but it may indicate that the Executive branch of our Government provided the rope to tie up the hands of the regulators.  However, the reason that previous sentence is nonpartisan is that, if Flynn is correct, that rope has been in the Oval Office through Democratic, as well as Republican, administrations.

The stem “anarch-” appears three times in Snyder’s text.  In each case it refers to the ideology of the current TEA Party, in contrast to the thinking at the time of the American Revolution.  Here is how Snyder applied it to the recent debt ceiling debate:

The notion that the federal government ought to be starved of resources is not patriotism: it is right-wing anarchism, which corrodes not only the American state but the American nation.

Much as I support this point of view, Snyder overlooks the fact that the wealthy have as much vested interest in anarchy as do the TEA Party ideologues.  The TEA Party embraces anarchy even if it bankrupts the Government, while the wealthy seek anarchy in the interest of getting rid of regulation.  The result is a logically implausible alliance;  but it is an alliance that could well reduce the United States to the level of those “third world” countries to which we feel superior before this decade has run its course.

No comments: