While the bubble grew, the press gave us trivia

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Super Investing

Capitalism for the poor, communism for the rich? -Mikhail Gorbachev

Ordinarily writing a review of a review is something like intellectual generation fade. Each reiteration is paler than the last. But I propose an exception to make the point that while we’re assigning blame for the current economic tailspin we should focus on the press.

Robert Skidelsky, writing in the December 19th and 26th issue of the Times Literary Supplement, reviews six books about the crisis. Lord Skidelsky, a British economist, gives us a masterful account of what has befallen the world’s economies.

In this stunning overview, On the Threshold-of What?, he makes the case that opacity is more than an annoyance. This is the point I want to elaborate. A commercially censored press is unlikely to have the will to elucidate financial instruments, such as mortgage-backed securities, and ideologies that have a direct impact on its advertising revenues.

When the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 was repealed by a docile congress in 1999 the press presented it, by and large, as the removal of an impediment to prosperity. In fact it was a disastrous refusal to regulate a banking industry that had become incomprehensible to the public and even to some of the savviest investors. The repeal was the handiwork of dogmatists and a complicit press.

The beneficiaries of this repeal, the great investment houses, were major advertisers in the press. Talk about conflicts of interest. Yes, media executives will ask how I propose the media should support themselves. I don’t have the answers, but the questions should be raised anyway. Just because there is no instantly satisfactory answer doesn’t mean the public should be kept unaware of the consequences of a press that is nowhere as free as it claims to be. Press lore is that the press resists advertising pressure. There have certainly been noble instances of that, but the more our media have been corralled by corporate giants the more the always shaky barrier between newsroom and business offices has been eroded.

I don’t propose to synopsize Lord Skidelsky’s succinct reviews of the writings of Charles R. Morris, Graham Turner, Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs, Razeen Sally, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Aaron S. Edlin and J. Bradford DeLong, but I urge anyone who wants to understand the issues bullying us around to read his enlightening essay.

Lord Skidelsky doesn’t take on the press, and the press rarely takes itself on. So we get story after story, comment heaped upon comment, rehash after rehash without bringing and holding central truths into view. For example, where have you read or heard in the endless cable blather that “The housing bubbles in the West were deliberately created to mask the damage inflicted by American companies transferring jobs to China and East Asia to boost profits?”

If you had heard that you would have understood that much of the cable blather is also a mask hiding a menacing truth.

And where have you heard that cheap credit was also a ploy to encourage the American worker, whose wages have been stagnant for a long time, to buy more and thereby make fat cats even fatter? You haven’t heard it, because the press has no vested interest in your understanding this crucial truth. In other words, instead of encouraging better wages the politicians and their corporate masters conspired to beggar the workers by providing preposterously low credit, and to make matters worse they conspired to convince their already impoverished dupes to believe that they could have all the things they want from society and pay lower taxes to boot.

The cost of such a cynical policy is a rotting infrastructure, a 19th Century transportation system, a fabulously costly and ineffective health care system, and a conviction in the highest places that the public exists to make an upper class richer.

You can begin to get a handle on all this by reading Lord Skidelsky’s review. It will even help you argue against the conclusions of the writers, if you choose. And, if you do read this omnibus review, ask yourselves why you had to rely on the Times Literary Supplement for clarity in a deluge of e-ink, print and thinly sliced baloney. My suggestion is that it’s because the press lords are quite content to feed you only the latest propaganda from the poobahs who have jerked us around for a very long time, whether they be Bernard L. Madoff or the ideologues who did nothing about him.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.

The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller’s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook, born in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter grew up New York, served in the US Navy. His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University. His story, Artists Hill, won the Literal Latte first prize in fiction. He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.