Downgrading Capitalism

By Michael I. Niman
ArtVoice 8/11/11

Calling a timeout on the mewling babies in Congress

Let me just cry foul here. I’ve always paid my bills. I live within my means, which thanks to decades of good luck, cover my living expenses. I pay my credit cards every month and avoid all sorts of debts. Yet, my credit rating as an American citizen just took a hit from Standard and Poor. This is the same private credit rating house that contributed to the global economic collapse by giving stellar credit ratings to mortgage-backed securities bundled full of junk loans bankers were tossing amongst themselves like hot potatoes. They just downgraded the credit rating of one of the only entities that has never, in over two and a quarter centuries, failed to pay a debt. Ya just gotta wonder.

Now I’d think that since the prima facie purpose of a credit rating is to gauge the likelihood that a debtor would pay their debts, a two-and-a-quarter-century track record, coupled with a literal license to print money, and the ability to tax the richest people on the planet, would go a long way toward predicting a continuing track record of repayment. And indeed, when financial mayhem hit Wall Street in the wake of the downgrade, where did investors run with their money? What safe harbor did they seek from financial chaos? Yep, US Treasury notes (and shiny metals).

Perhaps this is Standard and Poor’s ultimate PR gambit, to put their history behind them with one big, fiscally cautious bang. If nothing else, it certainly elevates your name recognition and stature when the president calls a press conference to trash-talk you.

Let’s look at Standard and Poor’s calculus here. Yeah, I know it didn’t help that their calculations were admittedly off by a few trillion dollars, but they’re sticking to their guns on the fundamentals. Removing the aura of invincibility from the US economy, and looking more objectively at the government’s economic fundamentals, they appear sour. More precisely, and this is the point that our toady, suck-up-to-the-rich corporate media would rather ignore, S&P singled out the new wack-job Republican Congressional majority for, in their words, continuing “to resist any measure that would raise revenues,” meaning restoring some modicum of taxation on the richest Americans. You know, the ones with the money.

And regarding the nuts in Congress, their report stated, “The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

Think banana republic here. A country that fields presidential contenders like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin certainly fits into the “less stable” and “less predictable than what we previously believed” categories. In this regard, S&P is on the money, even if they are unable to get their dollar figures right.

The mere fact that the country is governed by unstable lunatics who, in S&P’s words, use the “threat of default” as a “bargaining chip,” in this case arguing for, among other things, curtailing abortion and birth control, and even more tax cuts for the richest two percent of the population, is cause for pause. Put simply, S&P is pointing out that a bunch of screaming ornery toddlers hitting each other over the heads with their rattles and teething rings have somehow seized control of the global economy and are holding it hostage until they get to eat nothing but dessert all day long. It’s a bit unnerving, so they downgraded the crybabies, which I suppose is a global fiscal rating agency’s take on a timeout.

The S&P report, essentially condemning Republicans for dooming any real deficit reduction by ruling out restoring some taxation on the rich, seems like an odd political punt from an unexpected team. It’s one of the biggest soldiers of corporatism and capitalism saying, “Enough is enough, we’re killing ourselves.” Maybe we should listen.

Let’s look at how garden variety blood-sucking parasites operate. They leach on to an unsuspecting host and begin to suck the life out of them. As with many of us, these simple organisms can’t quite grasp abstract concepts like sustainability or action-effect relationships. Hence, they party wild in one big orgy of bloodsucking. But eventually they suck all the life out of their host, and are left clinging onto or tunneled inside of a dead, rotting carcass. This is the evolutionary roadblock that keeps insects and viruses from acquiring gold trinkets and big cars.

I think S&P is issuing a warning that the pathologically greedy—the hyper-rich who have been enjoying three decades of exponential wealth growth and radical tax cuts—have just brushed against that same evolutionary barrier. Their insatiable pilfering drain on the US economy and society is marching us to the brink of economic and social extinction. With the S&P report, we’re witnessing the emergence of a fight within the ruling class and, by extension, the Republican Party. It’s the batshit crazy rapaciously insatiable lunatics versus the just plain greedy.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.

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