At the end of the Roman Empire Europe fell into disarray and central government ceased to exist. In its place local nobles - rich people in positions of power - began to control their own fiefdoms, leading to the degradation and inequality of feudal times. Under the feudal system wealth and power were inherited, not earned. Wealth and power had to be protected, but not earned in the first place. And as part of the feudal system, peasants were essentially owned by the nobility. The land belonged to the nobility, and the peasants working that land owed much of what they produced to the rich people that possessed that land. They also owed the rich people a duty of performing a certain amount of labor without compensation. The rich grew richer, the peasantry lived in squalor, everybody worshiped the same Jesus, and that evil system lasted for hundreds of years. Descendants of some of those "noble" families persist today, as seen in the monarchies that live on in Europe still.
Our nation fought a revolution against inherited wealth and privilege, believing in the American Dream that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could prosper and leave your children in a better place than the one you were born into - in short, the "Land of Opportunity."
Today the greatest single indicator of where you end up economically at the end of your life is how much money your parents had the day you were born. There is little upward social mobility, and likewise little downward mobility. If you are born rich you are almost certain to die even richer. Born poor you will die poor, and your children will be poor. Inherited wealth and privilege are in charge again. If you don't earn over $1 Million a year, look forward to outright peasantry.
As part of an attempt to save the very rich from their own gambling addiction, our government is bailing out Wall Street to the tune of $700 Billion dollars. This will not go to hard-pressed homeowners to help them pay mortgages (something that would help the very institutions the money will instead go directly to) but rather it will be simply dumped on Wall Street. If there is junk paper out there, the taxpayer will buy it. If we don't, we are told by the very same people that led us into this staggering mess - AFTER THEY WERE WARNED OF THE CONSEQUENCES - that the system will crash. See, it was not the elimination of New Deal era laws designed precisely to prevent the very same situation we now face that was the cause of this Second Great Depression. Oh no, not that at all. Nope. If the market crashes it will be because we did not agree to shoulder a $700 billion dollar burden in order to help the very rich. If we do not do so then the system will crash and it will be our fault. It will not be the fault of a rabid and unreasonable free-market ideology, what used to be called laissez-faire capitalism (an already thoroughly-discredited notion that the very rich repackaged as "deregulation" and "freeing the markets"). It will be because we decided not to give Wall Street $700 Billion Dollars. And when questioned about whether this will even work, we are told that, honestly, nobody knows what else to do.
But what, really, does this mean?
Here is one way to look at it. There are currently about 350 million Americans. The federal minimum wage is currently $6.55 an hour. And if the bailout is $700 Billion, then each and every American - from the newborn infant to the elderly and everybody in between - is on the hook to Wall Street whiz kids (like Treasury Secretary Paulson just a few years ago) in the amount of $2,295.08. In terms of the number of hours at federal minimum wage, the government is going to order us to donate, free of charge, without compensation, over 350 hours of labor each. That translates into almost nine weeks (8.76 to be precise) of free labor for Wall Street by each of us - young and old alike, able-bodied or not, each one of us is now obligated to perform free labor for Wall Street for nine weeks. This will, somehow, help us by ensuring those that took risks with their money (not ours) and who enjoyed enormous profits and tax breaks as the rich grew richer than ever (not us) will not lose their shirts because we - the peasants, apparently - will donate nine weeks of labor to them so that the can keep their boats and cars and jet planes and servants and, in the case of Senator McCain, an unknown number of luxury homes.
And if we don't agree to that, then somehow our failure to do so will be responsible for the largest man-made and entirely-avoidable economic disaster that has ever befallen any nation in the history of the world. Not looting and corporate cronyism at the highest levels of our government. Not deliberate decisions that went against the face of history in removing safeguards put in place in the 1930s that were designed to - and while in place, DID - prevent exactly what has happened. Oh no. It will be because we didn't agree to pay, each and every one of us, over $2,000 each to Wall Street - and on top of the largest budget deficit the world has ever seen.
And the most aggravating thing of all is, to neutral and impartial observers, this "bailout" will not even work. The markets are going to fail anyway because they are unsound, they are a house of cards. But at least the rich will stay rich as we enter the Second Great Depression. After all, that is what is important to those in power. They just need to lie to us and get us riled up - abortion, terrorism, gay marriage, whatever. And we will then agree to it and despise those who try to save us from our madness because they are "liberal."
The Roman Empire had bread and circuses to distract the masses. We have 24-hour news networks - all owned by the very rich - to do the same.
Or, we could say no. We could fight back. We could vote intelligently. But given our recent history and the "issues" being discussed in this election (lipstick on pigs, Palin's "experience," whether Obama is a Muslim, and Jesus Jesus Jesus (the Savior is apparently now very comfortable with the rich and has decided He cares little for those less fortunate)), we will vote with our "gut."
Hail to the new boss, same as the old boss. And get to work - you have a staggering national debt to pay off and now Wall Street wants to cut out the middlemen and just have your tax dollars go directly to them.
I say we should let the system crash. It will be very, very painful, but it will take less time to fix and we will be able to focus our resources on those most in need of assistance as our house of cards tumbles. We will be able to rebuild on a solid foundation. And the risks of investment will be borne by investors, helping to avoid a repeat farther in history. And here is the kicker - if we decide not to do so, the system will STILL crash of its own weight, but the very rich will escape and remain rich.
I always wondered what it would be like to live through historical times. Now I wish I did not know.