It is not so much the impending release of yet another surely tedious instalment of the James Bond film franchise that impels me to write this article, as much as the much ballyhooed return of government and multilateral interventionism to world financial markets.
Only this week we have seen the US government extend swap lines with multiple counterparties across the world, echoing a similar move by European banks; all this even as the Fed attempted yet another makeshift change to interest rate policy that my colleague Julian Delasantellis covered for this publication. (See Bernanke’s last reel Asia Times Online, October 31.)
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rolled out its “special branch” operations in countries such as Iceland and Hungary, forcing the central banks to hike interest rates and allow their currencies to fall further in another chapter of its tried-but-failed policies.
While on paper the idea of comparing the British spy to a bunch of boring, unintelligent, process-driven and meandering bureaucrats appears odd, in practice the two represent classic communist approaches to government, namely to summon fixers at the drop of a hat – or in the case of Agent 007, the drop of a bikini.
The idea of saving the world from itself has been around ever since the first religions were propagated outside their immediate tribes. This idea has always needed a model-man on whose personality cult the rest of the control edifice can be built and structured. This model person is an example for others to follow, thereby helping to mold not just social behavior but also the way that society approaches its government.
Difficulties with separating the person from the system in terms of credibility and access are the main reasons why the replacement of monarchs by democratically elected leaders took an awful long time for much of the world to accept. Even now many other parts of the world are unwilling to sacrifice the notion of pretty much anyone becoming a leader.
The character of James Bond was made into the role model of a British government servant who acts fearlessly on behalf of his masters to bring their enemies under control, often using brutal violence, a license to kill, and dominance over women to find his way through the quest. Of course the women were rarely British, in effect combining an imperialist throwback to the admittedly communist one. Then again, communism itself has always been about imperialism, as the quick sundering of the Soviet Union in the 1990s demonstrated.
Bond was simply the visible face of “big brother”, the all-seeing, all-knowing, generally benevolent government. Serving a higher purpose than himself, the altruistic government servant was thus exempt from the usual norms of civilization – “Yes, he is a brute and a murderer, but he is one of ours.”
Being the notional targets of many such exploits, communist governments from the Soviet Union to Cuba and North Korea took umbrage at the James Bond film series, failing to notice that the super spy was simply a mirror image foisted on interventionist Europeans much as the likes of Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il had done in their own countries.
The sharp contrast with the American film heroes such as Indiana Jones (see Indiana Jones and the last capitalist, Asia Times Online, May 24.) couldn’t be starker. The idea of a buccaneering history professor fighting off communist or Nazi villains and in the process enriching himself is true to the spirit of market capitalism, ie to fall upon anomalies and derive both monetary gains and the personal satisfaction of seeing such wrongs righted.
Bond on the other hand doesn’t receive any pecuniary benefits from defeating the “bad” guys, but does enjoy off-the-record “perks” such as bedding foreign women, avoiding any disciplinary action for killing hundreds of bystanders (“collateral damage”) and destroying millions of dollars worth of state property in every venture. This use of illegal perks at the cost of national accounts, killing citizens with gay abandon and usurping their wares were also central characteristics of communist leaderships, as shown by the exclusive and luxurious dacha around Moscow to the fleet of modern Mercedes Benz cars that whisk the “Dear Leader” around Pyongyang even today.
The current market crisis has offered a haven for interventionists of all hues ranging from failed investment bankers in the United States, who have been picked to run the US$700 billion government mortgage portfolio, to mediocre economics graduates who get to dictate terms of settlement to sovereigns from their perches at the IMF.
The common thread uniting all these fairly incompetent folks is the deadly notion that their objective is to help, this altruism thereby offering a ready excuse and cover for their inability to offer imaginative or resourceful solutions of the type that hardened market capitalists do on a daily basis.
The lack of accountability on collateral damage is the central debate point that has been missed by many observers in distilling the latest moves by various governments in Europe and elsewhere to intervene in their economies. Every government official in Europe wants to be seen in heroic service of his economy; even if the banal truth is that not showing up for work would be the Pareto-optimal outcome.
The ultimate cost of these misadventures in the form of lower economic growth, higher inflation from all the excess money printed, reflexivity impact of misallocated capital, longer-term structural problems and the like are beyond the remit of these folks; even if ample evidence already exists of the counterproductive nature of these moves.
Yet, much like the millions of people fascinated with the communist superhero Bond, there are millions more seen approving heavy-handed government interventions into their lives.
In closing, here’s a famous excerpt from a Bond film that aptly captures my thoughts on the interventionists and their seemingly inexhaustible optimism on their self-worth. As luck would have it, the name of Mr. Bond’s counterparty is the exact medicine needed for the world of runaway money creation that government intervention has now unleashed on an unsuspecting world, namely gold.
James Bond: “Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?”
Auric Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Three cheers to that thought.