Sunday, April 2, 2017

Louis Proyect and the Pro-Poverty Girl

In one of the small incongruities of our age Louis Proyect used to work for Goldman-Sachs, though unsurprisingly only for a short time. Nevertheless, he's on CEO Lloyd Blankfein's mailing list, receiving the annual missive to shareholders. To which Mr. Proyect responds with an open letter.

Goldman-Sachs is in the financial services industry. A brief account of what they do is presented on their webpage here. It is highly specialized. Just as the science literature is mostly opaque to people outside of the discipline, much of what Goldman-Sachs does is unintelligible to the layman. As Adam Smith pointed out over two centuries ago, specialization is a good thing. It creates more different kinds of jobs and more opportunities for trade. Indeed, specialization is the mark of rich societies--people working in large, deep, complex markets will be wealthier than those living in simple, subsistence-level economies.

Still, opacity leads to paranoia, and especially on the Left (but also on the Right), Goldman-Sachs has come to represent surreptitious villainy and corruption. That the firm's alumni populate the Trump administration is apparently proof-positive the fix is in. Without in any way excusing actual corruption  (which undoubtedly exists), I simply don't believe it is the major problem with our government, and I think these fears are way over-wrought.

Mr. Proyect objects that Goldman alumni Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon now hold high positions in the Trump administration. He just assumes that these gentlemen's ambition is solely to make the world right for Goldman-Sachs. In particular, he condemns them for supporting the repeal of Dodd-Frank.

I don't understand Dodd-Frank--it's a very complicated bill regulating an industry that is to me opaque. I don't think Mr. Proyect understands it either. But I have it on authority from people I trust that it is a highly intrusive, expensive, and vague set of rules that if completely followed would destroy most financial institutions. It is not followed, and is substantially unfollowable. It's purpose is to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis in 2008. Unfortunately, the world's next financial crisis will not remotely resemble 2008, and hence won't be prevented at all. So the primary effect of Dodd-Frank is simply to inhibit business and make people poorer.

Either way, men from Goldman-Sachs know more about Dodd-Frank than either me or Mr. Proyect. And they are no more in favor of a financial crisis than anybody else. So I'm generally inclined to defer to their judgment. Plus I distrust regulations--they hardly ever work as intended.

Then comes the quote that Mr. Proyect reports as being the takeaway:
(Mr. Proyect quoting Mr. Blankfein) Putting aside one’s individual politics, the outcome of the U.S. election raises the possibility of more stimulative tax and regulatory policies, as well as plans for more infrastructure spending. This represents a substantial change in direction for the U.S., and offers many investors and companies a reason for optimism.
So what is it that makes Mr. Blankfein optimistic? Obviously more money for Goldman-Sachs, but not only that. It also means more investment (in capital goods and equipment), more employees, more consumer products, and even more infrastructure. Why is this bad? Mr. Proyect give us a really silly reason:
A reason for optimism? My god, are you are out of your mind, Mr. Blankfein? Scientists have concluded that climate change is threatening a sixth extinction. You really need to read Naomi Klein or even watch Al Gore’s documentary. By seeing everything through the cash nexus, you are losing the thread.
We all know that Mr. Proyect loses sleep because of the apocalypse du jour. Yesterday's hypothetical disasters have conveniently been forgotten: an asteroid hitting the earth, a new ice-age, peak oil, nuclear war, a global pandemic, or perhaps a population explosion. Scientists, who have and will warn us about lots and lots of things that have never happened, are no better at predicting the future than common undergraduates. Mr. Blankfein--long familiar with failed financial forecasts--rightly dismisses such Luddite fever dreams.

(Mr. Proyect could have cited a truer criticism. If all the good things Mr. Blankfein lists are bought from borrowed money, then it probably is bad. For however much it helps us now, we'll have to pay it back in the future.)

But Mr. Proyect is not alone in his criticism. He has a powerful new ally: a little girl. Or at least the statue of a little girl who stands athwart the ambitions of Wall Street's bull in Lower Manhattan.
Image result for little girl statue wall street             Image result for little girl statue wall street

There she stands--in tailored dress and bespoke shoes--steadfast against wealth and prosperity. Odd, because she's as much a beneficiary as Mr. Proyect.

Perhaps these are her shoes, available from Zappos for $60.
Timberland Kids Ramble Wild Canvas Lace Chukka (Little Kid)
Or maybe she's a more petty bourgeois consumer--akin to Mr. Proyect--and shops at Saks Fifth Avenue, where these can be had for around $400.

I couldn't find her dress on-line (maybe I just don't know where to look), but it's obviously store-bought and fits perfectly. If it cost more than $100 I'd be astonished.

Little Miss Statue lives very well at low prices because of the miracle of modern capitalism. Facilitated in part by the people at Goldman-Sachs.

She is no more inclined to live off the land on an eco-friendly subsistence farm than Mr. Proyect is. The odd thing about her statue is that she doesn't have a cell phone. How many well-dressed little girls in Lower Manhattan do you see who don't own a cell phone? Even Mr. Proyect owns a cell phone! Personally I think she's just trying to fake poverty.

So here she is--she and Mr. Proyect--standing firm for poverty for everybody else besides themselves. Not on purpose, but just because they don't understand that a modern economy needs capital to be efficiently allocated. And such allocation is non-trivial--it requires many very specialized employees doing complicated jobs. What the little girl doesn't comprehend is that her shoes and her dress and her cell phone, along with the electricity at her house and the subway that brought her to Wall Street, all depend on finance (among many other things).

On second thought, maybe I give her too much credit. Maybe she knows all to well that her efforts will make the world poorer. Perhaps she's envious, or evil, or selfish, or stupid. I don't know. Whatever the case, there she is, standing fearlessly in front of the bull demanding her welfare check.

The bull knows what's going on. He's raging for a reason. He doesn't see a little girl. What he sees is the poverty devil in disguise.

Down With Poverty!

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. Someone told me that you wrote this. You need something for your obsessive-compulsive disorder. With your Rush Limbaugh politics, shouldn't you be doing the normal things people like you do? Like going on hunting trips in Wyoming to kill bears or going on sex tours in Thailand? Get a fucking life, asshole.