Harold Ford's Warped Understanding of 'Capitalism'

The
incomparably horrific Harold Ford -- who sounds ready to challenge
incumbent New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a primary --
contradicted himself so egregiously in his cringe-inducing New York Times interview yesterday that it's hard to know whether one should feel more pity or contempt for him. First, there's this:

The
incomparably horrific Harold Ford -- who sounds ready to challenge
incumbent New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a primary --
contradicted himself so egregiously in his cringe-inducing New York Times interview yesterday that it's hard to know whether one should feel more pity or contempt for him. First, there's this:

Mr.
Ford declined to discuss what he is paid by the bank [Merrill Lynch, of
which he is Vice Chairman], but publicly available data suggests that
he earns at least $1 million a year. Asked what role outsize pay
packages played in fueling the financial crisis, Mr. Ford said he
objected to capping executive compensation on Wall Street. "I am a capitalist," he said. "I believe that people take risk, and there are rewards if they do well; they should lose if they don't."

But that was preceded by this:

[Ford]blasted [Gillibrand] . . . for opposing the taxpayer bailout of the financial industry.
"It was a mistake," he said, noting that most Wall Street firms had
already paid back the money. "How can you be against ensuring that the
lifeblood of your city and of your state survives?"

So
the rugged individualist Harold Ford -- who inherited his father's
Congressional seat at the age of 26 -- is a self-proclaimed
"capitalist" who believes that people "should lose" if they don't do
well: unless, that is, the people who "don't do well" are his funders
and controllers on Wall Street, in which case they should be propped up
by the U.S. Government with bailouts and loans and Federal Reserve
tricks until such time that they can pay themselves tens of millions of
dollars in bonuses, at which point they should be left alone in the
name of "free market capitalism" and keeping the Government out of the
affairs of industry and away from their "rewards." What Ford is
advocating, of course, is the exact opposite of free market "capitalism": it's risk-free crony capitalism, warped corporatism, the essence of decaying emerging-market nations in crisis,
in which the coercive power of the Government is harnessed by a corrupt
financial elite for its own benefit and at everyone else's expense, to
ensure that people like Harold Ford can maintain their chauffeurs and
weekly pedicures and helicopter rides he strangely boasted of enjoying.

Digby, a California resident, yesterday detailed the truly monstrous budget cuts
being contemplated by that state because of a $20 billion budget
shortfall, including "200,000 children off low-cost medical insurance,
end in-home care for 350,000 infirm and elderly citizens and slash
income assistance to hundreds of thousands more." Of those residents
eliminated from health care coverage, she writes: "These patients will
logically be coming into the already stretched emergency rooms, costing
far more money, so the only real purpose here must be to let them
die." And nationally, of course, the unemployment crisis, bringing
with it extreme levels of human misery, continues unabated.

Last
night, Digby noted that banking CEOs are becoming increasingly vocal in
complaining about the "unfairness" of criticisms directed to them, but as she says: "they
should shut their pie holes and be very, very grateful that that's all
that's being done." Indeed, given the extraordinary disparity between
the government-enabled Wall Street bonanzas
and the government-caused financial suffering for most everyone else,
it really is somewhat mystifying that there's not only so little
populist rage, but no outright disruptive protests. There probably are
many reasons why that is so, beginning with a citizenry trained to
accept its own helplessness and impotence against a seemingly
omnipotent financial and political elite, but this is exactly the sort
of gaudy pillaging and resulting vast wealth inequality which has
spurned disorder in the past.

A primary reason for this
acquiescence is probably found in the blatant deceit of Harold Ford's
comments. Americans have been taught for so long that the Joys of
Capitalism are unchallengeable even when they result in great
disparities, and that those who enjoy its fruits do so because they
deserve it. As Ford said: "I believe that people take risk, and there
are rewards if they do well." That would be all well and good if that
were actually what was happening. But it isn't. The people who own
the Government operate without risk and with the full protection of the
coercive political power they have come to own.
The rules are rigged completely in their favor, and (with some rare
exceptions) the obscene rewards of today are anything but well-earned,
anything but the by-product of "risky" entrepreneurialism. It's
obviously possible to sell some pretty blatant lies to an apathetic and
passive public, but the one that Ford and his funders are peddling here
-- these huge Wall Street bonuses are the joyous by-product of fair and
rugged "capitalism" -- seems a bit too blatant to be sustained.

* * * * *

In
addition to comments like these, what made Ford's interview so
stomach-turning to read was his willingness to say the exact opposite
of what he so stridently said during his unsuccessful run for the
Senate in Tennessee just three years ago. He's hardly alone in that
regard -- Ford's likely primary opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand,
instantaneously transformed from right-wing, lobbyist-serving House
Blue Dog Democrat into Good Loyal Doctrinaire Progressive upon being
appointed to her Senate seat -- but Ford is particularly unskilled in
hiding his soullessness. It's just a reminder that most national
politicians are so desperate for the petty perks of power that they're
willing to publicly humiliate themselves by making it clear that they
believe in nothing and are willing to recite whatever will please those
around them and those funding them. It's creepy and ugly and explains
a lot about our political class.

One of the issues on
which Ford completely reversed himself is same-sex marriage (he's
suddenly for it). Along those lines, Cato's David Boaz insightfully examines
how the U.S. Government bars same-sex bi-national couples from living
together in the U.S. Boaz's piece is a reminder that these "social
issues" are more than just abstractions, but genuinely burden people's
lives in rather extreme and unjust ways.

UPDATE: Here's
the often-excellent Dylan Ratigan on the role Tim Geithner and his New
York Fed played in many of the most extreme events: