Monday, March 23, 2009

On Populist Rage

Many people in the US are evidently enraged to hear about huge bonuses paid to financial industry executives held responsible for the recent economic collapse. In some quarters, as in this last Sunday's New York Times' Week in Review Section, this rage is held to be a "distraction" from the work of rebuilding the world economy. Thomas Friedman, among others, believes that while this anger is understandable, the job at hand is to recapitalize banks and financial firms so they can once again begin lend money to businesses and get the wheels of capitalism moving again.
There is a way of looking at the populist anger as more than a distraction, a venting of frustration in vengeful rage at people held responsible for peoples' economic suffering. What if we saw this rage as the leading edge of discontent with the inequities that characterize unregulated capitalism. During the last two elections, liberals often wondered why working class Americans would vote for an administration that had a track record of favoring policies that increased inequity, making the rich richer. It seemed to me that working class Americans often tend to identify with the rich, regarding taxes and "big government" as the source of oppression, rather than a system that leaves the spoils to the winners. This is a moment when President Obama could educate people about systemic inequity, thus putting the bonuses in a larger perspective that would validate people's rage while taking the focus off individuals and onto a system that urgently requires reform and regulation to address the inequities that flourished under recent decades of Republican government.

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