Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bernie Madoff, Slumdog Billionaire

It looks like Madoff has a good chance of being sentenced to the slammer for what will probably end up being the rest of his life tomorrow. At least, one can hope so. But as wiser minds than mine have pointed out, Madoff's Ponzi scheme is really just a symptom--albeit a whopping, $50 billion one--of the kind of fantasy world that investors, stockbrokers, and other financial "wizards" have been living in for the past decades. The fantasy, to put it simply, is that you can get something for nothing, that there is a free lunch, that money grows on trees--you get the idea.

Much as I enjoyed "Slumdog Millionaire" as entertainment, a great part of its popularity is no doubt linked to the fact that it tells a fantasy story, about a guy who goes on a TV game show, and, surprise surprise, wins! Yes, free money! No wonder it won an Oscar.

And nearly all of us have been suckered by this idea at one point or another. Real estate prices that keep rising? Hedge funds that keep paying high dividends? Even the economists fooled themselves into thinking that wealth can be created out of thin air. No wonder Madoff had such an easy time suckering people for so long.

I see a silver lining in the collapse of economies worldwide, despite all the suffering it will cause in the short run. We all have a chance to build societies and economies based on reality rather than pipe dreams, and a chance to reorganize our lives around the things that are truly valuable. Do we really need to drive shiny new cars? No? Then let the auto industry go bankrupt and let's find other, more worthwhile things to build and buy. Just for starters.

By the way, I have been meaning to mention, if you don't already know, that the best and most astute commentaries about economics and the current crisis are to be found on Doug Henwood's weekly radio program "Behind the News," which airs on at least two Pacifica stations. Best thing to do is subscribe to the podcast. Doug has long been editor of Left Business Observer, and believe me, at this point in history, left voices are the only ones worth listening to.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan... Journalists are under attack by the government that U.S. taxpayers are paying for.

I'm shocked! Shocked! To read that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston are not going to get married after all.

When the Israel lobby operates behind the scenes, is it still the Israel lobby? Lots of links and insights on the Freeman fiasco, and thoughts on anonymous sources, from the ever relevant Glenn Greenwald.

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