Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Check out this op-ed from today's Vanguardia by Fernando Ónega, who could probably be best classified as a neo-Fascist; he's a reactionary anti-capitalist. I included the prefix "neo-" because I'm sure he doesn't support the restoration of a dictatorship.

It seems that one of the last legends, that of people's capitalism, is crashing. this people's capitalism--what a contradiction!--appeared with the privatizations (of the government monopolies) and the stock market fever. Millions of citizens put their small savings into this form of investment and reached for a dream: to become rich. So we've all seen taxi drivers reading the "salmon pages" (business newspapers in Spain are normally printed on salmon-colored paper). In my town there are peasants who connect to the Internet to follow their bursatile ruin. Six million Spaniards dreamed about being Emilio Botín, president of the bank SCH.

Now, there are fewer and fewer stockholders in the middle class. Us poor people don't have a place on the board of directors, or among the elect. Some are going broke slowly, wondering who the hell told them to get into so many complications. Some escape with the shirts still on their backs and look for safer investments. And there are very few who had the wits or the intuition to get out in time. The only sure thing is that the variations of the market are kicking the poor out of the Promised Land, little by little, investor by investor, without the slightest lament for the end of the experience.

It's natural. Who tells the poor to have these dreams of riches? What us poor have to do is lose money so that the rich can gain it. This is the natural law of the economy. not everyone can win at the same time. All the rest is demagogic politics. The middle and lower classes have to stay where they always were: secure investments at guaranteed interest, which keeps them calm but doesn't make them rich. And buying bricks, the motor of an economy that ties you to a mortgage for a quarter of a century.

Anyway, when we get to the end of the year, we people's capitalists are still permitted two incursions into the world of money: investing in a pension plan--with the commitment not to touch it until retirement--and buying a lot of lottery tickets. The EU is pushing us towards a pension plan, with the caution that a public system may not arrive until 2020. We push ourselves toward the lottery, believing that it's the last outpost of social justice and that the winners should be from Galicia or wherever solidarity is neccessary. It happens sometimes, and with that hope we renew our investments. We can do it every week. The stock market, on the other hand, usually only gives you one chance.

a) The lottery is the worst possible "investment", as it pays off half the money it takes in, at most. The odds say the average player will lose half his bet, and that's in a generous lottery. Hope of winning is a false hope, and I'm speaking as someone who won a fourth in the 1998 Christmas lottery. The lottery hurts the poor much more than the rich, as a rich man can buy ten tickets without thinking, but a twenty-euro ticket is a lot for a poor person. It doesn't hurt the rich man to throw away a couple of hundred euros on the lottery.

b) Ónega just does not understand the basics of the system of capitalism, like most people. He thinks of the market as a sinister organism controlled by "the rich" and "the elect" that is out to defraud the poor, rather than what it is, a measure of what the supply of resources is and what the demand for them is. He believes in zero-sum economics, that the rich always win and their piece of the pie gets bigger while the poor's piece grows smaller.

c) He doesn't get the concept of the stock market, either. People who buy stocks because they think their value is going to increase are what is normally called speculators, not that there's anything wrong with that. Speculators are just betting that a stock is going to go up or down. It's not quite like roulette, in which every spin is completely random; it's more like blackjack, in which experience and intelligence can be used by players to increase their chances of winning. But the odds at blackjack are always the same in every hand, while the odds at any one moment in the stock market are different than those a minute before or the minute after. It's much more complicated to play the stock market than play blackjack. However, intelligent long-range investments in the stock market pay off. If you buy stock in solid companies that pay high dividends for their price, you'll make money in the long run--generally. You're an investor, not a speculator. You're betting that your company shows good long-term prospects, sure, but that's a pretty safe bet. Of course, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

d) Note the conspiracy theory. Who's responsible for this? (In the conspiracy theory mindset, nothing is accidental; every event serves the occult interests of those who really control everything.) There's some evil fiend telling the poor that they should invest in stocks, so of course the poor all go do it. Then they get burned because the rich (the Jews, the Masons, the big corporations, the Americans, the kulaks, the whites, the Republicans, depending on the time or place) always win in the end. If you put two and two together, it's obvious that the rich are cheating the poor, that the rich are the evil fiend. They're not rich because of their own or their family's efforts, but because they are rapacious parasites. This is not a new conspiracy theory, of course; Simon Schama says that the belief in conspiracy was one of the main causes of the French Revolution and of its violence. The "poor" (actually the middle class and working class, not truly poor indigents) could not believe that the Revolutionary economy was becoming much weaker due to prolonged war, disorganization, and the people's insecurity; they believed that if they were getting poorer, which they were, there must be a conspiracy against them, a nest of traitors inside the government, and that those traitors secretly working in the interests of the rich must be killed. That's what happened to Danton and Desmoulines.

e) Note that Ónega describes himself twice as one of the "poor". Now, this guy earns at least in the high five-figure range, in either dollars or euros. You're not poor if you have food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, and a job or a government subsidy. By those standards, Mr. Ónega is one of the most privileged people ever to live. The daily necessities of his life are more than covered, and what was once untold luxury is his, and mine, and yours, thanks to democracy and capitalism.

f) I can't help but think that Mr. Ónega was one of the dopes who invested in Internet fur-bearing trout farms dot com or some other ludicrous company of those. Listen, Mr. Ónega, that's your own damn fault and your personal responsibility. You gambled and lost. Don't expect any sympathy from me. Nobody cheated you but your own self and your greed.

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