Thursday, September 25, 2008

Craig Ferguson Gets It

Late-night chat-show host Craig Ferguson may have been a U.S. citizen for less than a year, but he has a more profound understanding of the spirit of democratic capitalism than any three dozen professional pundits on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC.

The last few minutes of Ferguson's opening monologue tonight were devoted to a critique of the Bush administration's corporatist, quasi-fascist (yes, I am using "fascist" in an historically appropriate manner) plan to bail out Wall Street investors who made major mistakes.

Ferguson, a high school dropout, is an autodidact whose opinions do not always match mine but are nonetheless usually well-considered and thoughtful.

In his September 24/25 monologue, which mixes political commentary with naughty humor, Ferguson said:

Earlier on tonight, President Bush addressed the nation. He said, Congress must agree to the bailout of the Wall Street banks, and if we don't, then we'll invade somebody...

This is because the banks are asking the federal government for $700 billion. You know what that works out to? We all pay -- every taxpayer in America -- $3,600 each to the banks. Really.

That's right. Every man, every woman, every she-male in America, everybody has to pay. That's right, she-males, it's time you did your fair share for this country -- in addition for all the fine things you do for me.

You know, I don't know how I feel about this, the taxpayers bailing out the people on Wall Street. Let me think about it for a second. I HATE THIS!

This is the biggest robbery in American history! Or, at least, since the cute David lost American Idol and they gave it to the ratty one. I liked the cute one.

But I won't editorialize here. I'll stay neutral. Here are the facts; I'll remain objective about the financial crisis.

Basically what happened is that Wall Street are evil, they got really stupid, and they got drunk on greed. What happened is, they crashed their Ferrari, now they're crying like little bitches, and they want their Uncle Sam to buy them a new one.

No. No. No. That's not how it works here. Uncle Sam would be better off using his money to build them a nice prison. (chuckles)

I'm always suspicious of people, these traders, they don't make anything except money. You know, they just make more money. I mean, it's like, "What do you make? Do you make a car, do you paint pictures, do you make houses, do you make people laugh?" (All right, bad example, but you know what I mean.)

Or if you invest in a company that makes things, that's great, too.

I know taking a stand against Wall Street fat cats is a bold move. You know, people are not going to agree with me at all on this. It's like saying, "I hate crime" or "I hate poverty" or "I hate Trump." People are already with you, you don't even really have to say it.

What I mean is that these guys, what they do though, is that they shift money around to make more money. That's just gambling. I mean they use fancy terms to make it sound legitimate: short selling, profit chasing, bottom fishing.

I don't know what bottom fishing is. I think it's what Elton John does on vacation or something.

(To audience:) Don't "ahh" me, I didn't steal your damn money!
Here's the part where Ferguson shows his deep, if inchoate, understanding of how the free enterprise system works, and how it interacts with liberal democracy:
See, what happens is, the banks want us to lend them money. Irony, my old friend, we meet at last.

I say we do to the banks what they've been doing to us for years. I've been poor. I've had to go to the bank for money. They are never pleasant or particularly helpful...

Should we bail these people out? Here's what I think: No, let them go bankrupt.

That's what the free market does. That's the free market in effect. Some win, some lose. Right now, you lose, you hedge-fund bastards.

They're saying that if they go bankrupt, we will lose our freedom. That's crap!

Capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. Democracy creates equality. Capitalism creates inequality. They need each other to survive. They kind of complement each other, but they kind of hate each as well. They're like the Olsen twins, if you imagine.

That's what they are. They balance each other out. Evil/good, evil/good, and then somehow, it works.

I don't understand this government bailout. Where's the government bailout of the 10 million uninsured children? Where's the government bailout of the people who are losing their homes? Where's the government bailout of the people who are losing all of their money betting on Dancing With the Stars and gone horribly wrong?
Even the last little bit of tirade, which suggests a sort of leftish sentimentality to Ferguson's way of thinking, expresses well the concept of opportunity costs.

The government can take $700 billion from us taxpayers and pass it along to Wall Street fat cats without fear of judicial review or any sort of accountability, but that means there is $700 million that cannot be used for something else: college scholarships, laser weapons, or subscriptions to National Geographic for federal prisoners.

What's more important is that the government is substituting political decisionmaking, which, as Hayek explained so long ago, is constrained by the blinders of central planning, for the market, in which the wisdom of millions of actors (consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and analysts), performing millions of transactions (selling, purchasing, manufacturing, investing) leads to a general condition of equilibrium. (That is, what Ferguson referred to as the "balance" between capitalism and democracy.)

Perhaps if the late-night talk-show hosts, as well as the daytime radio hosts, jump on the anti-bailout bandwagon, the masses (that's you and me) will tell Congress to take the Paulson plan and put it where the sun doesn't shine.

At the very least, enough complaining from the people may lead Congress to do its job and deliberate about major policy questions, rather than rush to judgment stimulated by the Bush administration's (and the McCain and Obama campaigns') panic and hysteria. One would think they already learned from the mistakes made in passing the USA PATRIOT Act without first reading and understanding it.

My message to Congress: Slow down, take a deep breath, and remember how free enterprise and liberal democracy work. Don't leap into the tar pit of fascism without first thinking about it.

In the meantime, I hope somebody posts Craig Ferguson's monologue to YouTube and it gets wide distribution.

Update: Somebody at CBS-TV granted my wish and posted the last minute and 44 seconds of last night's monologue to YouTube. It's here.


David Brown said...

Rick,this is hilarious and dead on.Watched it on youtube today.

I'd never seen him before...I forwarded this to several people.

Thanks, David Brown

Tim said...

Ferguson doesn't really get it -- he's criticizing the bailout from a sentimental-leftist angle, not from a genuine economic understanding. Defining capitalism as democracy's evil twin is pretty egregious: Markets aren't evil, and the function of free choice is not to maximize inequality.

I'm not sure you "get it" either, if you think your application of the term "fascist" is historically accurate. Never mind that even Jonah Goldberg, who tried to write a book on the subject, can't define what the term fascism means, and the closest thing we have to a working definition -- the old 14-point list -- was cooked up by academic activists, in order to smear political conservatives. (Umberto Eco has devised a slightly better 14-point list, but it also fails to define fascism adequately.)

Anyway, here's hoping the bailout loan -- which is meant to be a loan, not necessarily a straight payout -- contains the mortgage meltdown.

KJ said...

Having a genuine economic understanding won't make Joe Public feel any better about the situation. They're still fitting the bill for someone else's flamingo-up (think cock-up, but much bigger). How many in the public have a genuine economic understanding? And it's not their fault if they don't since it hasn't been presented in laymans terms, instead making a lot of people feel excluded to the process. At the end of the day the public is growing tired and restless and the government ought to be fearful of pushing the people too far which might resort in extremism.