By Henry A. Giroux
A society consisting of the sum of its vanity and greed is not a society at all but a state of war. – Lewis Lapham
The Gilded Age is back, with huge profits for the ultrarich, hedge fund managers and the major players in the financial service industries. In the new landscapes of wealth, exclusion and fraud, the commanding institutions of a savage and fanatical capitalism promote a winner-take-all ethos and aggressively undermine the welfare state and wage a counter revolution against the principles of social citizenship and democracy. The geographies of moral and political decadence have become the organizing standard of the dreamworlds of consumption, privatization, surveillance and deregulation. For instance, banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and other investment companies including Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and UBS prosper from subterfuge and corruption. They also have been transformed into punishing factories that erode the welfare state while pushing millions into hardship and misery and relegating an entire generation of young people into a state of massive unemployment, debt, and repression. The profits seem endless and the lack of moral responsibility unchecked as the rich go on buying sprees soaking up luxury goods in record numbers. The New York Times reports that dealers of high-end luxury cars cannot keep up with the demand. Indulging in luxury items is no longer a dirty word for the ultrarich in spite of living in a society wracked by massive unemployment, inequality and poverty. One example provided by theTimes, without either irony or criticism, points to “Matt Hlavin, an entrepreneur in Cleveland who owns seven businesses, mostly in manufacturing, bought three Mercedes last year: a $237,000 SLS AMG and a $165,000 S63 AMG for himself, and a $97,000 GL550 sport utility vehicle for his wife.” This example of shameless consumption reads like a scene out of Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, which portrays the financial elite as infantilized frat boys out of control in their unquenchable craving for greed, sex, power, and every other debauchery imaginable. At a time when the United States has descended into forms of political and moral amnesia, massive inequity and high levels of poverty, coupled with narratives of excess and over-the-top material indulgence, have become normalized and barely receive any critical commentary in the mainstream media.
It gets worse. As the zombies of casino capitalism rake in unprecedented amounts of wealth, they appear to take delight in mocking and humiliating the poor and disadvantaged as if they are not only responsible for their suffering but deserve such hardships in spite of the fact they are not accountable for the difficulties in which they find themselves. Those with little power or wealth are now seen not only as morally degenerates but as disposable, subject to the whims of the market and outside any consideration of compassion or justice. Yet there is more at work here than a moral deficit or the kind of pathological daring and willingness to remove oneself from any sense of compassion for others. There is also a culture of cruelty willfully reproduced by a rabid form of casino capitalism that measures human worth in cost-benefit analysis and accrues and consolidates power in the interests of the top one percent of the population.