Monday, May 25, 2009

Cassandra Wilkinson, Colonel Jessep, Gordon Gekko and a few good men

(Above: Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. What the world of capitalism needs now is a few good hams, double smoked and honey glazed).

What is it about Colonel Jessop that so infatuates the commentariat?

Well actually I think we're talking about Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (unless you prefer Jessup), as played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, and lately he's being held up as the kind of right-thinking dude America and the world needs just now.

Here's Cassandra Wilson in Gekko was right after all loving what the good colonel has to say:

Perhaps Gekko needs to come back. But were he given a right of reply by The Monthly, he might borrow a line from Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessop, and suggest to his accusers, "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very wealth I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

Funny, in the movie, the good colonel is the arch villain, with Jack Nicholson loading him up with triple smoked ham. Is it because his court room opponent is played by Tom Cruise - a well known Scientologist, known to jump on sofas and take a stern line on Katie Holmes - that means the bad guy is the one we now remember? Or does the commentariat just love bad guys who don't mind doing what it takes, and if that involves code reds, a little binding and gagging and beating, well so much the better.

Who knows, but it seems Wilkinson is in the grip of cultural references as a way of defending the glories of capitalism. Apart from Gekko and Nicholson, she deploys Douglas Adams and the last king of Scotland, nee Idi Amin. Well as we all know that Jimmy Carter ruined America, so Amin can be blamed for all the problems of Africa ever since. And its dearth of entrepreneurs.

But what really sticks in Wilkinson's craw?

While we're talking about Gordon Gekko and how the recession is a profound challenge to our values, few want to hear that The Monthly only exists because some people make enough money out of capitalism to pay other people to bag it.

Ah the sweet little old magazine The Monthly, funded by a squillionaire, don't you know, to peddle Marxist claptrap about capitalism. How it produces froth and foam and rage way out of proportion to its size, like an itch that needs constant scratching. Few want to hear, but perhaps that's because nary a day goes by when someone isn't screeching the news from the rooftops. 

Get over it already, and move on. The readership of The Monthly is so obscure even The Monthly has trouble finding them, in the same way I believe my household is the only subscriber to The Believer to be found in Australia (but at least it means I can dig Jon Stewart making jokes about McSweeney's).

But never mind, let's take an even handed approach. Wilkinson concedes that there might have been a little hiccup in recent times:

Capitalism has bubbles, and from time to time the animal spirits rise and fall, but historically we find ourselves better off over time with continuing gains in living standards, health and literacy. While unemployment and the other impacts of the recession will be everyone's problem, we need to be careful in regulating against the bubbles, lest we curb too much of the animal spirits that have seen free market societies feed, house, educate and connect citizens faster than any planned economy.

If it makes people feel better to talk about "connected capitalism", "empathetic capitalism", "social capitalism", well and good; let's learn lessons where we can. It's true that the actions of some very greedy people got us into this mess but it's also true that the ambition, drive - greed if you will - of others will get us out of it.

Well actually no Cassandra, let's not conflate ambition, drive, ability, talent, what you will, with greed. Some people actually do things that improve the lot of others because they have the capacity and the ability. And when you talk about connecting citizens faster than any planned economy, you're actually talking about US government expenditure to help develop the US military starting it all, as planned a part of the US military industrial complex as you might wish for.

And actually no Cassandra, there's nothing particularly clever about scam operators and spivs and charlatans and speculators encouraging the world economy to go rogue and feral by building it on sand castles with a rather large tide in the offing.

But Wilkinson kindly cedes this:

Rudd was actually more subtle in his scorn than has been reported, saying the problem was "obscene failures in corporate governance which rewarded greed without any regard to the integrity of the financial system".

Rudd is right: nobody deserves to be ripped off in places they've never heard of by people they've never met. Transparency, accountability and sane levels of leverage will be better for all of us. But his remarks were exaggerated to send a message that market forces would need to be reined in by responsible government.

And that message is repeated across the globe. British Conservative leader David Cameron has called for an end to "the global corporate juggernaut" to revive "vibrant local economies". No doubt based on Bonnie Prince Charlie's Duchy Originals model of overpriced organics for the fox-hunting crowd.

But what one hand of Wilkinson giveth away, while abusing our favorite example of the monarchist over the republican model, sadly the other hand can take back:

But regulations brought in after the 1987 crash, the Asian crisis and the Enron scandal didn't prevent the junk mortgage crash. You can't make tomorrow safer by regulating yesterday. And in the meantime we further curb the risk-taking, entrepreneurial adventurers whose as yet unthunk products and services may well be essential to our recovery.

Huh? So that means governments should do nothing, and abandon any talk of better regulation? Or does that mean they can go ahead and try to regulate, but it won't work any better this time than the times that they've tried it before? But if they tried it before, and it didn't work this time, how will any current failed attempt at regulation further curb risk-taking enterpreneurial adventurers? As if mere government could quell the human spirit of adventurers determined to fuck over the world?

Brain hurt time. Put it another way, why do I feel I'm in the presence of someone blathering like Ayn Rand?

I guess Wilkinson is terrified at the prospect of payback:

This week at the Future Summit - a talkfest organised by the Australian Davos Connection - it was suggested more than once by eminent people from public institutions, non-government organisations and private companies that the capitalists should apologise for the global financial crisis much as the commies had to apologise after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The head of a major firm suggested in his dinner speech that the real estate and stilettos aspirations of Sex and the City summed up all behind the GFC.

Yes, it's all the fault of aspirational television shows.

I guess it would be nice if some of the commentariat actually acknowledged that key players - in particular finance institutions - actually had something to do with the GFC, rather than pretending it was either all Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton's fault.

Come to think of it, a ritual shaving of their heads and a march through the streets wailing and in sackcloth and ashes, beating their breasts with remorse would be nice. Quite visual and epic. We might even have the odd lashing, Mel Gibson Passion style, and the watching crowd could always be given some handy sized stones.

I keed, I keed. Wilkinson is only playing with straw men and making sure her puppets only mount straw arguments:

Business leaders seem reluctant to talk up the market, instead taking their beatings like men and hoping the mood will pass. I guess no one believes there is any real threat to the system. But when the market economy isn't defended for its incremental and imperfect gains, it can collapse under the weight of political criticism. Just ask Venezuela.

Funny that, I would have thought you'd be just as well off asking Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about California.

I keed, I keed. Surely what the world needs is another Colonel Jessep running Gitmo, and another whole bunch of Gordon Gekkos running the capitalist system so we can do it all over again, dust ourselves down once more, and say there now, that wasn't so bad was it. 

And then you can read The Monthly to tell you how shallow the arguments are that Wilkinson presents in a froth and bubble of cultural references.

The further thoughts of Col. Nathan R. Jessep:

There is nothing on this earth sexier, believe me, gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning

Walk softly and carry an armored tank division, I always say.

Take caution in your tone, Commander. I'm a fair guy, but this fucking heat is making me absolutely crazy.

And should I add, as mad as hell? Where's that window.

No comments: