The Problem Is Americans Hate Banks AND Government

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(This guest post previously appeared at NewDeal2.0)

Bloomberg has released a poll (tx yves) with the headline “Wall Street Despised in Poll Showing Most Want Regulation“. It is very interesting to say the least. Some of the highlights:

* Most people interviewed in the Bloomberg National Poll say they don’t like Wall Street, banks or insurance companies and favour letting the government punish bankers who helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
* 57 per cent of Americans have a mostly unfavorable or very unfavorable view of Wall Street.
* Banks are viewed badly by 54 per cent of poll respondents.
* 60 per cent have a negative opinion of insurance companies.
* The majority of poll participants — 56 per cent — say big financial companies are more interested in enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary people.

Fairly substantial numbers against the ruling doctrines and institutions of the past 30 years. However, there’ a catch:

* Almost seven out of 10 people surveyed support using current bank regulators for consumer protection, backing positions held by the financial industry and Republicans over President Barack Obama’s proposal to establish an independent agency.
* More than 40 per cent of Americans say the government has gone too far in measures to fix the financial industry; 37 per cent say it hasn’t done enough.
* “Anything the government gets their fingers in, they mess it up,” said poll participant Norman White, 60, a community college electronics instructor who lives in Colfax, Louisiana. “I don’t have a very high opinion of the government running anything.

What this poll reveals is the great contradiction in American politics. We are at the end of the Reagan Revolution, the great reactionary movement of American politics against the New Deal and “big government.” The heroes and myths of the era, such as Wall Street and “free markets”, lay shattered on the ground. But just as importantly, the distrust of government, not only in this poll, but all polls, is at record levels. Thus, simply mouthing platitudes from 70 years ago or trying to instill faith back in government with massive bills filled with subsidies for mega-corporations isn’t going to get you far.

The poll also shows most Americans don’t like the nation’s top corporate bosses. Almost two-thirds say they have an unfavorable opinion of business executives, a rating that rivals the public’s disdain for Congress, which was viewed with disfavor by 67 per cent of respondents.

Having followed this issue for a long time, neither of these numbers are new, however they are historically high. The question of whether large corporations have too much power in this country has been at or above 70% for a couple decades, in fact, the power of giant corporations has always been an issue since their inception a century and half ago. But today, with both parties in the pockets of the mega-corporations, it is never realised as an issue. Nonetheless, this is the sweet spot of American politics at this point, yet one party will insist on helping the corporations and eventually you through more centralized government, while the other will continue their bankrupt philosophy of laissez faire, thus, political advantage to neither.

What we need is to revive and evolve the principles and institutions of this republic, understanding the people are sovereign. We need to revive the imperative of self-government, now lost to history, that if we are to have democracy, it must be decentralized. If we advocate the use of government, we must first revive its legitimacy, and the only way that is going to be done is by bringing the American people back into politics and into the decision making processes of government.

Joe Costello was communications director for Jerry Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign and was a senior adviser for Howard Dean’s effort in 2004.

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