esmaspäev, oktoober 17, 2011

when greed became ungood

Sometime in the past few years people went from admiring to loathing the ultrarich. It may have coincided with the economic crash, boom, bang of 2008, or may have preceeded it, or may have just dawned on the many right now. But most people no longer admire and seek the emulate the excesses of the wealthy: they ridicule them.

The "Greed" era is over. It has been for some years. Some are waiting for it to return, and they keep waiting, believing that by trimming some taxes here or regulation there, it will be 1984, the "Year of the Yuppie," all over again. That was the at the dawn of the boom, but this is the bust, and it will continue to be one until society arrives at a new social contract.

I am writing mostly about the US, my country, here, but this has implications for small, northern European economic "speedboats," as Marju Lauristin referred to countries like Estonia and Iceland, Latvia and Ireland, as opposed to the heavy industrial freighters of Germany and Sweden. Growth in Estonia has returned thanks to austerity measures that the public was willing to swallow because its choices were the smartly dressed neoliberals or a cranky, washed up demagogue who stands for nothing or everything or anything. But most agree it will never return to boom levels, and if it does, it is unlikely to be fed by the same crass speculation in real estate.

It is interesting that I am actually old enough to remember life before the Era of Greed. When I was a very small person, the rich were almost universally Old Money, reared in educated in luxury, private and exclusive. If you want a TV reference, go take a good look at Mr. and Mrs. Howell from Gilligan's Island. They wore ascot hats and hung out at yacht clubs and smoked pipes. They were the upper class and always had been and always would be. Until the nouveau riche built a McMansion next to their family estate on Martha's Vineyard and buzzed the ancestral compound in their helicopters.

For a long time, people worshipped the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But after the crash and, especially, once it became clear that taxpayers would be footing the bill for the irresponsibility of the private sector, that adulation reversed. Hence you have protests on four continents against "corporate greed," which only the most marginal of leftist students rose against years ago, at a time when they were universally cast aside as misguided and irrelevant. Now Occupy Wall Street and its imitators are frontpage news, with plenty of institutional backing, unions, media. What do they stand for? What does it all mean? Would I seem like a cynical f*** if I told you that it doesn't really matter what they want or what it means? What matters is the following:

The General Social Survey, administered by the National Opinion Research Council, has asked Americans about their confidence in banks and financial institutions since 1973. Between March of 2006 and March of 2010, the percent of Americans with a great deal of confidence in banks and financial institutions plummeted 19 percentage points, from 30 percent to an all-time low of 11 percent. According to a similar trend from Harris Interactive, the percent of Americans with a great deal of confidence in the people running Wall Street had already reached an all-time low of just 4 percent by February of 2009.

Most Americans have lost confidence in their banks and financial institutions. The protests against "Wall Street" are just a manifestation of that loss of confidence. Sure, plenty of of those in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan are Che Guevera-adoring leftists with barbarian-grade understanding of market economies. But others are middle class kids who accrued a lifetime's worth of debt with the widely held but utterly naive belief that there would be a pot of gold waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. There is a vast swath of highly educated, formerly upper middle class youth now entering the lower class. Not a recipe for national success.

Of course, there is an Estonian angle in this -- there always is. The head of Adbusters, the Canadian media group that instigated Occupy Wall Street is Kalle Lasn. He was born in Tallinn in 1942. I wonder if an Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana is in his future. he is certainly influential and one cannot accuse him of lacking self promotion skills and motivation. As I have remarked before, these Estonians, or at least a very capable subset of them, are doers.

Will things ever again be business as usual? They will, but it will take a long time, and at the end the idea of what "business as usual" will have taken on new meanings, lost old ones, and will have wider backing in multiple strata of society. Only then will we have a new social contract. By that time, people will look back on days like these as the Era of Negotiation.

19 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

No wonder.

Kuskil miskit on - eestlased!

Remember, the Soviet Union's collapse began because of Estonians ...

The Wall Street apparachiks should be scared.

Timbu ütles ...

And let's no forget White Stockings, the infamous female Estonian snipers in Chechnya!
Recently, the Veerpalu scandal made me feel bad about being Estonian, but thanks to Lasn, Nõlvak and football, there are some brighter moments... maybe we should also give a title of Honorary Estonian to Assange?

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Don't forget that Ma Kettle was from Saaremaa. Getting by during Hard Times is about secrets only the truly Rural Poor hold, so my fears are about the dwindling numbers of Maarahvas in Estonia. As far as city folk go, the higher they climb the harder they fall.

LPR ütles ...

Once the survivalist phase begins, I am ready to drop my city boy veneer and start eating what I kill. I will start trapping animals, grow my own grains, make my own firewood,etc. fight off other starving humans using firearms (draw from my Soviet Army 85-87 experience), organize alliances with friendlies ... in short, I am ready to go native "maarahvas-style" in say ... two weeks. People occupying Walls Street are wasting precious time.

Sepp ütles ...


People falsely believe there is security in the cities. This illusion
will be maintained for as long as these lifestyle choices can be supported by our draw-down of fossil fuel stocks. Once the public perceives that this subsidy is in serious decline, then they will begin to consider plan B-if they have one.

Sepp ütles ...


Eesti needs to improve on per capita firearm ownership. One rifle or pistol per family member would be a good start. Well-stocked food pantry. Hunting ain't easy and starving masses would have same idea-local game would soon be exhausted. Root vegetables are easier to grow and can be cold cellared. Permaculture- grow a low maintenance edible landscape. Network with other like-minded locals. Complete self-reliance is a myth.

LPR ütles ...

Networking with like-minded locals ... I agree. Work out some kinda elaborate handshake and get unicolor bandannas.

Stockpile ammo and focus on controlling access to drinkable water. Everything else will follow from there. :-)

notsu ütles ...

What about urban agriculture? Has worked, particularly when there are little other resources: wiki says that "In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce come from local urban farms and gardens."

Sepp ütles ...


Urban agriculture is very beneficial and should be promoted to help build resilience in cities where people are most vulnerable to disruptions to industrial food production & distribution. Challenge in Estonia would be short outdoor growing season, unlike Cuba, where it is pretty much year round. All the tricks for growing in harsher northern climates would come into play.

Sepp ütles ...


Agreed- no such thing as "enough ammo". Would take my pay in lead, these days, before paper currencies to maintain purchasing power year over year.

Wouldn't bother with controlling water supplies since water scarcity is not an issue in Eesti. Can be had in multiple ways and made potable with cheap, low-tech
filtration systems e.g Berkey, Katadyn or DIY improvisations.

LPR ütles ...

I need your help ... Giustino, I think maybe you are the best man to answer this ... see, I have visitors from the old country and the other day a subject came up that is kinda hard to settle. It concerns personal hygiene of all things. Also culture, I'd think. The issue of morning shower. Estonians (like most of Eastern Europeans, I'd think) do not believe in morning shower. They just roll out of their beds in the morning and go about their business. The shower they take is in the evening. So our argument was morning versus eveing shower. So let me ask you this - have you gone native and given up morning showers? Personal, I know, but for the greater good, mankind must know. Which is it? I wan to understand this. Why are Estonians not taking morning showers. It is nasty, to my mind.

Rainer ütles ...

"Why are Estonians not taking morning showers. It is nasty, to my mind."

It is your problem if your visitors are from Uugametsa. I have met pople like these: when they come to visit and you ask if they'd like to take a shower, they aswer something like "Thanks, but I already went to sauna this week".
I am a firm believer in morning showering and so are most people I know (that I know of).

LPR ütles ...

I gave the issue some more thought and I think I have an answer. Morning showers are a class thing. If a person is of a working class then it makes all the sense to take a shower after a long day at the factory or in the dusty field. If a person spends a day in a strile office setting, there is no need to wash off the sweat and grime. Just start your day off fresh each day by taking a shower. So the only thing left to figure out is why are university educated and well travelled estonians who are not laboring in the fields, still not taking morning showers? Kommunistlik igand - communist leftover? I don't know. I need to buy your book, maybe you make some astute and funny observations about that too.

notsu ütles ...

I am a university educated Estonian, addicted to my morning showers :) I thought it's general and felt out of place in Poland where my hosts had evening showers instead. As I was home alone during my morning rituals, I thought maybe they'd think I was dirty, as I never had a shower when they were home.

LPR ütles ...

In america in general, people have this notion that Europeans are smelly and dirty. When I first got here, it really puzzled me where was this was coming from.

After all, we have sauna! How dare they, right?

I myself thought the americans were uncouth by switching hands when eating with a fork and knife, only to find out that to americans, if you don't switch hands after using the knife, you come accross as impolite by not taking time to elegantly set down the knife and peacefully eat from the fork. To an American eye Europeans appear low class by not setting the utensils down and switching hands. Another culture shock. In reverse, Europeans see Americans like they never learned good table manners. Complete misunderstanding all around.

It pays to do as Romans do when in Rome, that's for sure.

I'll mention the class thing to my quests tonight and see how they react. Ah. Maybe not. I still like to have some friends. So I need to think how to talk about it without rustling their feathers. Should I mention that saying about Romans?

Spawnie ütles ...

Pfft how bored can you be to even have such issues?
Just live and let live I'd say.
Unless the bastards stink. Then you get to say it to their face.
Oh and I loved the hypothetical apocalypse plans. And I found it hysterical how some people actually took you seriously.

Sepp ütles ...

Lucky Spawnie who lives in Candyland!
Listless days spent traipsing with rainbow colored unicorns and magic fairies. How we envy you!

Spawnie ütles ...


Don't envy me, come join me, there's plenty of room still!

And thanks for teaching me a new word, I had to google 'traipse'!

Mardus ütles ...

Right, well, the thing about evening showers is that you can take your time having them and fixing yourself up a little after that. Not so in the morning.