Don't Cry For Us, Mussolini

2008-10-14

October 14, 2008. Remember that date.

Today is the day that the nine largest banks in America were told -- not asked, but told -- that the Federal Government would be buying significant stakes in their companies. Mark Landler and Eric Dash of the New York Times report:

The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must sign it before they left....

[B]y 6:30, all nine chief executives had signed — setting in motion the largest government intervention in the American banking system since the Depression and retreating from the rescue plan Mr. Paulson had fought so hard to get through Congress only two weeks earlier....

"It was a take it or take it offer," said one person who was briefed on the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. "Everyone knew there was only one answer." ....

The executives did not have an inkling of Mr. Paulson’s plans. Some speculated that he would brief them about the government’s latest bailout program, or perhaps sound them out about a voluntary initiative. No one expected him to present his plan as an ultimatum....

"I’ve always said to everyone that ever worked for me, if you get too dug in on a position, the facts change, and you don’t change to adapt to the facts, you will never be successful," [Mr. Paulson] said....

This, my friends, is fascism, straight out of the playbook of Benito Mussolini.

Never forget that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Now the Federal Government will, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, control who does and does not get a loan, a mortgage, and credit of any kind.

Can you doubt that there will be a "no-loan list" to match the "no-fly list"? After all, we can't be giving credit to terrorists!

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Businessman, but Mr. Paulson didn't like what you said about his boss last week, so you won't be able to expand your company. We are reserving credit for corporations that are, shall we say, more cooperative. We all need to pull together in these tough times."

"I know you'd like to buy that house, Bob, but your mortgage loan has been denied. No, I don't know why, but if I were you I'd be a bit more careful about those letters to the editor. Maybe come back in a few months after you've had a change of heart and we'll see what we can do, OK?"

The recent bailouts, loan guarantees, and so on now total an inconceivable $2.25 trillion dollars, with no end in sight (we must be flexible and react to whatever new "facts" arise -- action above all, as the fascists used to say). But all that money is only part of the price. The even greater cost is the tremendous concentration of power in the person of the Secretary of the Treasury. So let us recall a wise observation by the great British liberal Lord Acton:

And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

These Treasury boys are gangsters, or awfully close to it. No discussion, no public hearings, no open airing of the issues -- just raw power exercised through an ultimatum and the implicit threat of force.

Where are the great voices for freedom and simple human dignity, raised against this government-financial complex, this absolute corruption of the American body politic, animated as it is by a twisted sort of trickle-down economics? They are nowhere to be heard.

Indeed it appears, sadly, that the great voices for freedom and dignity are gone. Those are such old-fashioned values. We need to be modern and flexible; we need to focus on action and unity above all; we need, in short, to be fascists.

Don't cry for us, Mussolini. The truth is we never have left you.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal