(When Mr. B. enters the Goldman Sachs washroom for his regular morning visit, he finds washroom attendant Selig Cartwright waiting expectantly…)
What is it, Selig? You look pensive. Is there something you want to tell me?
No, sir. Something I want to ask you. Do you vote, Mr. B?
Of course, I vote, Selig. It’s every American’s duty. We need to elect the best possible representatives who will make the best possible laws.
That’s what I’ve always thought too, sir. Except now…now…
Now what, Selig? Speak up man.
It’s some stories I’ve been reading in the New York Times, sir. Hearing elsewhere, too.
That rag. No wonder you’re upset, Selig. What have they been writing now? I’ll wager it’s something nasty about big banks.
Yes, sir. They and other media are saying, well, hinting strongly anyway, that the people we think we’re electing to make the best possible laws don’t really make the laws that affect big banks. That the banks themselves, their lobbyists, their lawyers…
Stop right there, Selig. I know where this is going. They’re saying that after the people in Washington we elect to make laws that are supposed to regulate Wall Street, they pass these laws along to other government officials to make the regulations that actually allow the laws to work, but these other government officials end up negotiating with us, the big banks, and we make sure these new laws don’t work against our interests. Is that what your reading and hearing, Selig?
That’s exactly what I’m reading and hearing, sir. Is it all lies?
Lies, Selig? Of course it’s not lies. That’s exactly the way things are done these days. What’s the problem?
I guess the problem, Mr. B, at least for some people, is that companies and industries the government think have done things, or might do things, that require regulation to protect the public, shouldn’t write these regulations themselves.
I could tell you a lot of reasons that argument is silly, Selig. Instead, I’ll just say what Dick Cheney said when it was pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Americans didn’t think we should get into a war in Iraq.
What did he say, sir?
Cheney said just one word, Selig. He just said: “So.”
I don’t understand, sir.
What he was saying, Selig, was that no matter what most Americans thought or wanted, he and others in the Bush Administration had the power to start a war if they wanted to start a war. No one could stop them. They had the power and they could use it as they saw fit. And if most Americans disagreed, thought it was stupid, thought it would lead to disastrous consequences, “So.”
You mean, Mr. B., that Washington passed Dodd-Frank to keep Wall Street from operating the way it wants to operate, and people are disappointed because you’re putting the kibosh on its effective enforcement.
And Americans are furious because the big banks made a record $40 billion-plus in the first quarter of this year while average wages and benefits for other Americans, even the ones who still have a job, are stagnant or falling.
And if Democrats instead of Republicans are in power, when it comes to really keeping Wall Street in check, both end up going along with what Wall Street wants.
Which makes present-day politics, at least when it comes to Wall Street, irrelevant. No matter who seems to be in power, you’re in power when it comes to things that involve your own interests.
And that in essence, sir, Wall Street has become a fourth branch of government with powers equal to the other three branches on critical economic matters.
An equal branch of government, Selig? Are you trying to be offensive?
No, sir. I just meant…
Selig, Selig, Selig. They’re on the phone every day begging us for money they think they need to get reelected. They’re sucking up to us daily so they can get fat pay goodies after leaving office. We’re funneling money to their family members directly or indirectly if they play along with what we want. All the people who argue our case on legislation, and negotiate regulations, are their ex-employees — or former colleagues. Yes, Selig, we’re a fourth branch of government. But equal? Let’s just say some branches are more equal than others.
Now I understand present-day American politics, Mr. B. I’m still a little confused about something, though. You told me just a few minutes ago how important it is to vote? But if you control so much and you’re not voted into an office, why is voting still so important?
Because, Selig, when the next big crash comes, the blame is going to fall on people who were supposed to make laws to prevent it. It’s elected people who are going to take that hit. And when the next crop of pols replaces them, because we don’t get elected, we’ll still be free to buy them, too.
An inspiring explanation, Mr. B.
Yes, Selig. And one that should make you very proud. You’re part of the big bank team, after all.
My cup runneth over, Mr. B.
See that it’s the only thing in this washroom that so runneth. You’d be amazed how many job applications we get these days for jobs like yours, jobs cleaning Wall Street bathrooms.
I appreciate the opportunity to serve, sir.
Continue to do so, Selig. Now get my Stall #8 ready for use. Pronto.
(Michael Silverstein’s new comic novel, MURDER AT BERNSTEIN’S, is available from Amazon.)