In what can almost be described as an “Economic Meltdown For Dummies,” Matt Taibbi’s article “The Great American Bubble Machine” in the latest issue of Rolling Stone is a great primer on the machinations behind the current financial crisis that reads like a good novel.
You may remember Taibbi’s recent, almost viral ranty response to AIG bigwig Jay DeSantis’ New York Times letter of resignation. Taibbi got internet-wide props for the scathing piece, which gave voice to the lack of sympathy and palpable rage felt by many Americans when reading DeSantis’ sob story. An excerpt:
DeSantis has a few major points. They include: 1) I had nothing to do with my boss Joe Cassano’s toxic credit default swaps portfolio, and only a handful of people in our unit did; 2) I didn’t even know anything about them; 3) I could have left AIG for a better job several times last year; 4) but I didn’t, staying out of a sense of duty to my poor, beleaguered firm, only to find out in the end that; 5) I would be betrayed by AIG senior management, who promised we would be rewarded for staying, but then went back on their word when they folded in highly cowardly fashion in the face of an angry and stupid populist mob.
I have a few responses to those points. They are 1) Bullshit; 2) bullshit; 3) bullshit, plus of course; 4) bullshit. Lastly, there is 5) Boo-F***ing-Hoo. You dog.
Taibbi is now making waves with “The Great American Bubble Machine,” crafting an argument that Goldman Sachs “has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression” and that they’re already planning their next heist. Taibbi breaks it down into five major bubbles, five huge market manipulations preying on the American public, hedging wild bets against our futures and better interests.
According to Taibbi, here’s the scam template:
Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased.
And the heartwarming history behind Goldman’s first major con during the Great Depression:
Beginning a pattern that would repeat itself over and over again, Goldman got into the investment-trust game late, then jumped in with both feet and went hog-wild. The first effort was the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation; the bank issued a million shares at $100 apiece, bought all those shares with its own money and then sold 90 percent of them to the hungry public at $104. The trading corporation then relentlessly bought shares in itself, bidding the price up further and further. Eventually it dumped part of its holdings and sponsored a new trust, the Shenandoah Corporation, issuing millions more in shares in that fund – which in turn sponsored yet another trust called the Blue Ridge Corporation. In this way, each investment trust served as a front for an endless investment pyramid: Goldman hiding behind Goldman hiding behind Goldman. Of the 7,250,000 initial shares of Blue Ridge, 6,250,000 were actually owned by Shenandoah – which, of course, was in large part owned by Goldman Trading.
Getting deja vu yet? The next round of looting, according to the piece, didn’t occur until the dot-com bubble of the late 90s. Wild speculation and IPOs of never-profitable net properties were small potatoes compared to what came next.
Bubbles #3 & #4 were the housing bubble and gas-price gouging . As Jon Stewart famously skewered at Jim Cramer, Goldman Sachs and their ilk hedged their bets against us again in banking on their own shady mortgages defaulting and cashing in on the fallout. Speculation on the oil market soon after lead to gas costing upwards of $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008, but most Americans were too busy freaking out about their impending homelessness to notice the connection.
Bubble #5 was looting the bailout, but according to Taibbi, the next bubble will be even bigger- energy futures and carbon credits, and “groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an ‘environmental plan,’ called cap-and-trade.” Taibbi caps it off with a kind of acceptance- the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money” will keep on sucking- but at least now we know about it.