Bad Guys Have Won

N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich has written a “death of reasonable economic proportion in America” piece in today’s edition. He contrasts the old-time theology of Robbins Barstow, a Connecticut family man who believed in 1956 (along with everyone else) in an essentially fair American system that offered bountiful or pot-of-gold fortunes to any enterprising American, with today’s corrupted Inside Job reality.

Barstow’s Eisenhower-era faith was reflected to some extent in some “family goes to Disneyland” home movie footage that he shot in ’56, He edited it all together and then added music and sound narration for a 1995 short called Disneyland Dream, which was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2008. Here are part 2 and part 3.

“How many middle-class Americans now believe that the sky is the limit if they work hard enough?,” Rich asks. “How many trust capitalism to give them a fair shake? Middle-class income started to flatten in the 1970s and has stagnated ever since. While 3M has continued to prosper, many other companies that actually make things (and at times innovative things) have been devalued, looted or destroyed by a financial industry whose biggest innovation in 20 years, in the verdict of the former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, has been the cash machine.

“It’s a measure of how rapidly our economic order has shifted that nearly a quarter of the 400 wealthiest people in America on this year’s Forbes list make their fortunes from financial services, more than three times as many as in the first Forbes 400 in 1982. Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands, because that’s where the action has been, and still is, two years after the crash. In 2010, our system incentivizes high-stakes gambling — ‘this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place,’ as Calvin Trillin memorably wrote last year — rather than the rebooting and rebuilding of America.

“In last week’s exultant pre-holiday press conference, President Obama called for a ‘thriving, booming middle class, where everybody’s got a shot at the American dream.’ But it will take much more than rhetorical Scotch tape to bring that back. The Barstows of 1956 could not have fathomed the outrageous gap between this country’s upper class and the rest of us. America can’t move forward until we once again believe, as they did, that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland.”

Here are part 2 and part 3 of Disneyland Dream.

  • Rashad

    Maybe if people stopped having kids they couldn’t afford, and buying things they don’t need they would do better, but I guess that’s part of the American dream nowadays as well. I like how people blame an inanimate system of commerce for their ills rather than the choices they make. We don’t even have capitalism, we have a socialized hybrid. The rich get and poor have it made. The former by their accomplishments and influence over the government, and the latter because the government paternalizes them and they don’t incentivize the need to advance themselves. Why would a poor person want to make more when under a certain bracket they get welfare, food stamps, medicaid and other goodies? Hell I even know people with full-time jobs that purposely go out of their way to commit fraud to keep government programs and there is no oversight. Just free money.

    Then again having pride used to be important too, and self-reliance was a virtue. Not anymore.

    “Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands,”

    I don’t see the big deal here. If they did invent Disneylands they’d be call simpletons who use the lowest common denominator to gain success. People saw where the money is and shifted their education and priorities towards them. That shouldn’t be decried.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Wells to Rashad: You don’t see what the big deal is in the fact that “many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives” and not something tethered to real enterprise, invention, creation? You’re making me really angry. Angry and revolted. This is what I despise about righties.

  • dangovich

    Conservatives at once love America and hate Americans. That’s why they demand to know where every penny is coming from to fund programs that help struggling Americans, but have no problem shoveling untold billions into the black holes of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Glenn Kenny

    Hee-hee. The thing I love most when Jeff posts these political observations is that his commenteriat feels compelled, as it always does, to have its OPINION; hence, chime-ins in which one reads Rashad sounding like someone’s grandmother who listens to a tad too much Limbaugh on the talking box (“buying things they don’t need,’ man, THAT’s just fucking priceless…among the many things people don’t need: movie tickets…), and then Jeff gets “really mad”…and then it’s off to the races. Without a real economist (and that includes Rich) to be seen for virtual miles…

  • corey3rd

    we live in a society where corporations crave youth and cheapness over experience and “worth the investment.” I’ve got pals in their late 30s that find themselves being unable to find decent gigs because the companies can hire a fresh out of school graduate for half the price. And they know that five years down the road, they can bounce that guy and get another cheap-o.

    we are living on the verge of Logan’s Run. The only job for “old” people is Walmart Greeter

  • Rashad

    Why would I begrudge any youth for seeing the financial trends and focusing on them? The world moves on whether someone wants to be righteous in their occupation or not.

    Be successful any way you can, and as long as it is legal, fuck everyone else. That’s the way it is and should be.

    What is the solution people who argue this want?

  • dkaye

    “Fuck everyone else. That’s the way it is and should be.”

    Spoken like a true conservative. That is the right-wing mantra. Fuck you, I got mine. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s killed this country. People like Rashad make me sick.

  • Kakihara

    “poor have it made”

    In other countries.

    “and the latter because the government paternalizes them and they don’t incentivize the need to advance themselves. Why would a poor person want to make more when under a certain bracket they get welfare, food stamps, medicaid and other goodies?”

    Pay no attention to the fact that they’re poor partly because of the banks they were forced to bail out with the welfare known as TARP.

    “Hell I even know people with full-time jobs that purposely go out of their way to commit fraud to keep government programs and there is no oversight.”

    Well, in their defense, their only role models are people dealing in legal Ponzi schemes.

    “If they did invent Disneylands they’d be call simpletons who use the lowest common denominator to gain success.”

    You do know Disneyland was considered revolutionary once, right?

    “Be successful any way you can, and as long as it is legal, fuck everyone else.”

    Even if that means freeing a guy who blew up a plane to do business with Libya? Or having clothes manufactured in a country where protesters got run over by tanks and the cat food is poison?

  • polarbear2

    Frank Rich considers himself one of “the rest of us”?

  • Abbey Normal

    Rashad: Do you really think the social safety net is responsible for over 30 years of stagnant middle class wages? Do you think it’s responsible somehow for the massive gap that exists in terms of wealth disparity? Do you think it’s responsible for the lunatic inventions of the financial marketplace that turned a normal downturn of the housing market into a massively devastating recession? Is it somehow responsible for the takeover of government and regulating bodies with former Wall Street executives?

    It’s not an “inanimate system of commerce,” you jackass. Actual people make the system of commerce what it is. The decisions we make about taxation, about regulation, about trade…these things aren’t done in some vacuum bereft of human involvement. They’re done BY US.

    There are just so many obviously incorrect and stupid things about what you’re saying, and yet so many people out there believe the same thing. Please stop being part of the problem, and for God’s sake, stop beating up on the people underneath you on the economic ladder. YOU’RE FIGHTING THE WRONG ENEMY.

  • actionlover

    Rashad sounds like another Faux Noise Channel-watching, Palin-loving teabagger. Ban him, so we don’t have to listen to him spew his hate-filled racism anymore.

  • MechanicalShark

    “Be successful any way you can, and as long as it is legal, fuck everyone else. That’s the way it is and should be.”

    This is evil, summed up in convenient, easy to understand terms. This is the way the world ends, not with a bomb, but with “fuck you, I’ve got mine”. We have to take a stand against this philosophy, everywhere, wherever it is, and root it out. Either we live together, or we die alone. Before we even talk about specific, we have to agree to love and trust one another. I forgive you, Rashad. You gotta understand, man, it’s all about love. I don’t have solutions to all the world’s problems, but I do know that your philosophy will only make them worse. To quote a great movie I watched recently, “Fear eats the soul”. I know you’re afraid, man, I am too. It eats at you, it eats at all of us. But we got an illness, this fear, a malignant tumor in the human race, and the only prescription that will satisfy is love.

  • LexG

    Alright, let’s cut some of the bullshit here. Not to get on Wells’s anti-rightie radar, because I don’t give a DAMN about politics and both sides are EQUALLY INEPT, toxic and pandering…

    But but but… before everyone here jumps on Rashad’s relatable conservative nihilism…

    Are any of YOU GUYS really THAT nice? That CHARITABLE? That OPEN-HEARTED? That full of bonhommie toward your fellow man? Am I posting on a board with a bunch of soup-kitchen volunteers who shelter the homeless and freely drop benjamins on every urine-soaked sad soul in front of a 7-11? Do you guys actually contribute to charities? Do any of you ACTUALLY practice this super-lefty COMPASSION FOR THE POOR AND DOWNTRODDEN, or are you MOSTLY just a bunch of sheltered, Caucasian, selfish social climbers who’d trample a bum like fucking ROBOCOP 2 with a heel through the eyeball to get someone to read your stupid spec script?

    Because I come here DAY IN AND DAY OUT, and no offense, ’cause I’m a dick too, but for the most part you all seem like some MEAN MOTHERFUCKERS. Am I to believe that the same petty snipers who roll into Hollywood Elsewhere every day issuing DEATH THREATS and verbal taunts at anyone who doesn’t AGREE WITH THEIR TASTE IN FUCKING MOVIES, of all trivial shit, am I to believe you guys log off and go doling out money and shelter to the poor? Or is your BULLSHIT LIBERALISM just some shit that SOUNDS GOOD, THAT FEELS GOOD, but let’s face it, none of you really have Hispanic friends or black friends or or poor white trash friends, none of you hang out in multicultural neighborhoods, couldn’t pick any prominent African-American outside of Denzel or Obama out of a police lineup, and probably don’t even drive an American car?

    Your “all we need is LOVE!” wide-eyed optimism is both a CONVENIENCE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE as well as some shit that sounds like TOTAL LIP SERVICE. I’m sorry, but just to bring it anecdotal, y’all would at the very least be a shitload NICER and LESS PETTY if you really believed in this Utopian brotherhood that makes you smile like a trained dolphin at a Jon Stewart rally, but let’s face it, YOU WANT TO GET PAID just as bad as anyone else, and outside of your LOUDLY PROCLAIMED POLITICAL OPINIONS, I guarantee 99% of super-lefty industry hangers-on don’t REALLY want to all be poor somewhere in a fucking tent in a commune strumming an acoustic guitar singing “Ghost of Tom Joad” with a Chris Robinson beard and a bunch of chicks with armpit hair.

    Why not just own up to a “better them than me” attitude? At least it would be honest. ‘Cause, sorry, when I read 200 posts on here a day from the pettiest, trash-talkin’est movie beardos ever, I have a hard time imagining that your LIBERAL ICONS were running around with this much SHEER ANGER like you guys have. Own it.

  • Rashad

    The idealism and naive view of most people would be funny if it werent’ so sad. Everyone has to look out for themselves and their best interests since no one else will. Has this not been observed time and time again?

    And it’s typical not one solution has been proposed. What’s the answer? Give the inept, corrupt government more control and money? Is that it? Keep waiting for that.

    I like how I get called racist too

  • Grover Dill

    Whoa, LexG just raped all y’all.

  • Grover Dill

    “Rashad sounds like another Faux Noise Channel-watching, Palin-loving teabagger. Ban him, so we don’t have to listen to him spew his hate-filled racism anymore.”

    Yeah, and YOU don’t sound full of hate at all. Project much?

  • Kakihara

    Lex: Well, like I’ve said, I’d give up my earthly possessions if it’d bring back my mom. Anyway, I’ve donated to at least three charities this year.

  • mizerock

    Hating the spreading of hate isn’t hate.

    I blame, to a large extent, the changing of what is considered acceptable behavior, by American businesses and American people both [they are the same according the current interpretation of the Constitution]. There used to be an understood code of behavior, that you were out to grow the company, to make a better product, perform a needed service, make plans for the future. Now, as you’ve noted, it’s ALL about coming up with accounting tricks and mergers and lending / borrowing schemes that make the next quarter look good to the shareholders. Is there anyone in the financial industry that is thinking up ways to make the sure the derivative crisis never happens again? No, they are all working to come up with ways to profit in similar ways in the future (“what bag of crap can I market as a solid investment instrument to other institutions?”).

    Companies used to be able to at least pay lip service to having ties to the community, to keeping a stable (or growing) workforce level that was all covered by health insurance and other benefits. But only the generations alive today ever experienced that behavior – it was a short-lived golden period in history. That era really only lasted for a few decades, while the US was in a unique position, in terms of resources and infrastructure and workers. So, post WWII, up until the oil crisis (1971? or maybe 1979?). And we built up expectations, as a nation, that anyone that was willing to work and to become educated could do so, and realistically hope to earn decent living with hard work and skill and a little luck.

    It’s not like the US had a thriving middle class back during the Revolution, or the civil war, or WWI, or … ever … until that magical time of plenty came. And now, went.

    Who to blame? There’s really no one villain. Maybe it’s letting people with anti-social attitudes and opinions to set the rules. “Fuck you, I’ve got mine” would have been a completely unacceptable attitude to express openly in the 1960, am I wrong? There was more of a sense of community, and it was understood that OF COURSE we care about what happens to our neighbors. The ones that looked like us, any way. Now, everyone is behaving more and more like a corporation, where you don’t have to apologize for doing whatever it takes to get and keep money.

    And yes, even corporations give money to charity, it’s a nice tax write-off and looks good in advertising.

  • MechanicalShark

    Lex, people are much nicer in real life, probably especially HE regulars. Here I can be a total dickwad, but in real life I just sigh, shake my head, or look at my feet when people I know express inane film opinions.

    I’m not a wannabe screenwriter, though I can’t speak for anyone else here. I live in Washington state, and you could not pay me enough to go live in California. I freely admit that I’m a selfish bastard, as are most people. But the thing that makes conservatives wrong is that they think that’s okay. Smart liberals know that they’re assholes, but work to become a little less of an asshole. In my opinion, there’s no fucking point to living if you don’t undergo some personal growth. More often than not we fail or regress, but we have to fucking try. Conservatives have a defeatist attitude about the potential of humanity, that we have no potential for evolving emotionally and intellectually as a species, so everyone should just get theirs while the getting is good. I understand and sympathize at times with that idea, but it eats the soul.