|#OWS runs on quick-hit one-frame gags in social media -- now Robert Reich is playing along.|
"Because people only buy one thing at a time, you can only sell one thing at a time" is a good marketing dictum. Part of the confusion created by Occupy Wall Street is similar to the confusion being offered by the Republican Party: too many things are being sold at once. In the former instance, it's tough to bag exactly what's being sold: one minute it's corporate greed, the next it's BofA, the next it's Mark Zuckerberg. Tea Partiers brandished bumper stickers, but Occupy Wall Streeters, a little more hip than that, often has the political content of a scapegoating one-frame gag.
So Robert Reich came to #OWS Los Angeles Saturday offering a "teach-in"--and the stuff of the teach-in reads like a series of one-frame gags worthy of a new Simpsons episode. Sounding a lot like a firebrand reformer, he said that the movement would not end and that nobody would be able to stop it.
Reich's ideas on what's happening in Occupy Wall Street are strongly, in Reich's view, anti-big bank. Here they are, distilled: bring back Glass-Steagell. Applauding seals include Van Jones.
Average Americans may not know what "Glass Steagell"--which the Clinton Administration eroded more than any other--is, but at least the concept of bringing back an old piece of outmoded legislation is one you can draw with a crayon.
Reich is talking down to his audience, way down. In fact, he's relying on its ignorance--and not only about Glass-Steagell. "After the banks made wildly risky bets with our money, we bailed them out," he says, for instance, very speedily.
You're thinking that it was today's banks that made those wildly risky bets. No, it was, in particular, CountryWide, IndyMac, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia. It was then Bush administration Federal regulators who then begged today's more solid monoliths--Wells, BofA, Citi, and Chase--to take the broken newbies in.
So here's the irony: these latter banks were, ironically, among the banks that were in a position to take bad banks in precisely because they did not make wildly risky bets even when the Clinton and Bush administrations gave them green lights to do so.
In Reich, there's no difference between retail banking, investment banking, commercial banking--it's all just "a bank" and Glass Steagell will fix it.
Bringing back Glass Steagell may be something that we can understand in general, but it's really not a fix for what happened. (AIG, for instance, the greatest of institutional villains, faced few compliance issues involving Glass-Steagell, and was insuring products it should not have insured in the late 1990s, before Glass-Steagell's final erosion). The truth is that Glass Steagell was already not operative law much in the Clinton administration at all. It was a persistent, not a sudden, erosion.
The fix is, in fact, fairly accomplished; it's just that it has proved so costly. But blaming today's top banks for the Clinton-Bush era catastrophe is like blaming a stingy aunt for taking in a nephew who has gambling debts that menaced the whole community. It really wasn't the fault of the stingy aunt for incurring the debts, and we probably shouldn't blame her in particular for taking in her prodigal nephew. The best message that Reich or anyone else could take to OWS is this: learn from the past, but don't borrow from it. Foot forward, move ahead.