Matt Taibbi, author of the new book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con that Is Breaking America, is clear about the role of class in the current crises of capitalism.
First, in causing the mortgage crisis:
When I first started covering the financial crisis I would go around the country and ask people about this stuff and nobody knew anything. Now, one out of five people understands what’s going on. It’s slowly getting there. But on the other hand, if you look at the foreclosure crisis and the way that’s being covered, there’s literally the same mis-coverage that we saw two years ago. There was a story in the Wall Street Journal last week where they’re basically blaming the lawyers who are working on behalf of people who don’t want to pay their mortgages for causing the foreclosure crisis. People believe this stuff. The problem with the mortgage crisis is that: you hear the word ‘mortgage’ and you don’t even want to listen. The Republicans were the only ones who were really loud about this: they said the reason everybody got a mortgage is because the government was forcing banks to lend to people. That wasn’t the real explanation. The real explanation was that the banks had figured out a way to take these subprime mortgages, chop them up into little bits, and then repackage them as AAA-rated investments and sell them to people who didn’t know what they were. It’s basically like selling oregano as weed. What’s the first thing you do when you find out you can get away with that? You go out and buy or grow more oregano.
Then, in the reporting of the crisis:
In other countries they have histories with revolutions and class movements. In America, people don’t like to think of themselves like being in a lower class. They all like to think of themselves as potential millionaires. So when these politicians get up and say “We need business and the producers to be free, in order to create jobs for everybody”—people think of themselves as being on the side of the rich guy. They don’t think of themselves in being in that other group. That’s the genius of the Tea Party—you take these people who are all themselves middle class or below, and you make them focus on poor minorities so they think they’re above somebody else. . .
You’ve read A Tale of Two Cities—you don’t get that kind of burning, the-rich-are-real-assholes take on wealth in this country. We love wealth and we hate poor people. I know people who work in TV news who have actually been told to do stand-ups rather than put interviews with poor people on the air. We physically don’t want to look at them.
Taibbi also notes a change in the class aspects of journalism itself I hadn’t ever considered:
I grew up around journalists. In the 50s and 60s, Journalism wasn’t a profession. It wasn’t something you went to college for—it was really more of a trade. You had a lot of guys who came up working in newspapers at the copy desk, or delivery boys, and then they would somehow become reporters afterward and learn on the job. They tended to be working-class guys who had an attitude about power. They saw themselves as being working people, and they had an emotional mandate to stick-it-to-the-man. I remember those people—when I grew up there was this kind of iconoclastic attitude. There are still some people who are from that world—Seymour Hersh is a great example. The guy grew up in newspapers and still just fucking hates people, and works in this dirty little office in Washington—he doesn’t do fancy lunches. But somewhere along the line, in the 80s or 90s, after All The Presidents Men came out, journalism became this very fashionable profession, a thing for the Ivy League kids. If you go on the campaign trail, what you find is a lot of people who are really turned on by the experience of being near powerful people. They see themselves as being on the same team as the people that they’re covering. I think we saw this very clearly with the [Michael] Hastings thing—all these reporters were saying “how could you betray your source?” which is a crazy attitude for a journalist to have. You would have never seen that twenty or thirty years ago, and that’s kind of de rigueur now.
Clearly, we’re going to have see some serious changes in the class structure of the United States—to get out of the current crises and to prevent their occurrence in the future, and to change the way we report on the current crises and the alternative class solutions being proposed.
Otherwise, we’re destined to repeat the same con that is currently breaking America.