Take the letters M A R K E T and with the change of just a single letter you have an anagram of `racket'. Not for a moment, of course, do I suggest that the two concepts are simply interchangeable. However it would be hard to deny, from any point of view, that deregulated financial markets came recently within a whisker of torpedoing the entire global economy. Thomas Frank's brilliant and most entertaining analysis of the matter helps to supply what has been a crying lack, namely articulacy and pizzazz in arguing what so many have felt all along, that much of the world of banking and investment had become a downright racket. More especially, the book is concerned with another grotesque piece of effrontery, by which the perpetrators of the disaster have not only escaped unpunished but are managing to masquerade as some sort of victims and/or champions of the common man. The proponents of this viewpoint can certainly be congratulated on their chutzpah if nothing else. In particular they have deployed brilliant PR and controlled the vocabulary, and while in terms of intellectual grip and argumentative panache Thomas Frank can wipe the floor with the whole wretched gang books still have to struggle against the organised Goebbelsian salvoes that substitute volume and repetition for argument. Galbraith had a wonderful expression `the stridently vocal and pathologically ignorant'. In case even that may be too elitist and taken as further proof of attempts at seizing power by liberals or god knows who, may I humbly offer to the forces of light two simple and familiar expressions to help penetrate the clouds of obfuscation being visited on the victims of these scams. For the financial operations themselves the word is of course `racket': for the way it is being sanitised and served up for approval there is the excellent American phrase `snow job'.
Most of the book is devoted to analysing the techniques used in this saga of double-speak and double-think. In fact I got the impression that a lot of it comes down to just one basic technique - whenever the malefactors are accused, however reasonably, of any particular malfeasance the double-think apparatchiks simply reply `No, you'. It is automatic, it is instantaneous, it annuls thought and reason, and it gains force simply by familiarity. Thomas Frank cites example after example. Consistency is not a problem either - if the money moguls and manipulators are attacked by their critics on the liberal side then the liberals are victimising the said moguls (it passes belief, doesn't it?); but without missing a beat the pitch can be modified to present the money-monsters as protecting the small businessman from the big guys.
If you think that the supply-side monetarists have had things their way for the last 30 years, it's worth saying that in some right-wing quarters the feeling is strong that their hour has never really come. This is the familiar argument that when a policy looks to be an unmitigated disaster that is because it has not been pursued thoroughly enough, or that it is not really a disaster but a brilliant triumph, or both. Thomas Frank devotes a good deal of energy to dissecting this proposition, but there is another side to it that I suspect he is missing because he is just not old enough to have the background. I am not American myself, but I have been visiting this great republic all my life, and I had made a few of my visits before Thomas Frank was even born. He often cites a certain Glenn Beck whose show I have never seen, and who apparently majors in paranoia about liberals, socialists etc seizing power, `taking over' (whatever that is) and similar claptrap. This stuff is as old as the hills, and attractive though America is in so many ways it has been the home to a large minority of right-wing nutters since I can ever remember. In the 60's we had the John Birch Society, now we have the Tea Party, and there has always been the constant theme of claiming ownership of the constitution, the flag, the bill of rights etc, the same fixation with taxes, and the non-stop invocations of `liberty', which has morphed from its origin in rejection of George III into a near-meaningless adhesive label attached mechanically to anything the right may be doing. Above all, such propaganda, however ludicrous, is kept in people's consciousness by the simple device, now as then, of turning up the volume-level.
Thomas Frank ends with his insight into how this monstrous nonsense has achieved the level of acceptance that it has. Partly it is that it was well prepared and financed, but he does not spare the Democratic party in general or Mr Obama in particular for being desperately ineffectual. Forget Mr Beck's takeovers, seizures of power and whatnot: if any of that is going on it is not coming from the quarter where Mr Beck purports to find it, although we can all join in criticising the government on this issue at least. I do not know just how long the genuine majority who are being manipulated will put up with it, but there does seem to be some kind of reaction at last, and it appears to be global. That leaves me with another thought: do the deregulators and free-marketers really think that trans-national corporations, however deregulated in America (suppose), can operate on any such basis worldwide? I wonder whether it has really sunk in that the world consists of anywhere else besides America.