Of course, scapegoats are intrinsic to the language of politics. And scapegoats are particularly useful to ignorant politicians. The fact is that most politicians do not know the slightest about how finance—public or private—actually operates. It is for them a matter of good and evil—mostly good when prosperity reigns, mostly evil when prosperity collapses. When financial structures are actually disintegrating, politicians discover real demons.
This is the case with Greece, which no longer is a functioning economy, and we will soon be able to put Portugal, Spain, Iceland, and maybe Italy in that category. Of course, these five are in the world of the euro. But how about the world of the British pound? A Tory victory might prolong the agony, but that is only because Labor has governed so long and therefore will take the blame (not entirely justifiably) for the wreck.
As it happens, many people and most pols are dishing out the censure not to those who make the rules (or do not make them) but to those who live by them, perhaps a bit too cleverly.
“Vilifying Goldmanites,” Spencer Jakab writes in his weekend Financial Times column “On Wall Street,” “simply for being smarter and richer than the rest of us” makes no sense. “Stop turning Goldman into a scapegoat for the wider crisis.”
Jakab also warns about an extension of the Goldman obsession. It is anti-Semitism.
In Goldman’s case, some even wonder whether the group’s perceived Jewishness has infected legitimate criticism of it with centuries-old prejudices against a group with a long history of being scapegoated. Michael Kinsley, writing in AtlanticWire, cites echoes of the infamous blood libel. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd earned rebukes from theologians after writing that “blood-sucking banks” like “Goldmine Sachs” were “the same self-interested sorts Jesus threw out of the temple”. Matt Taibbi’s famous line in Rolling Stone about the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money” received criticism for its resemblance to Nazi propaganda, a claim Taibbi vehemently denies.
I don’t agree with my friend Mike Kinsley as to the danger—although Jakab’s two citations are ugly, and Maureen Dowd has apologized for her smarmy words. In fact, I am struck by how little anti-Semitism has been evoked, at least in America. What will happen in Greece and Spain, where historic hatred of the Jews is still rich and rife, we’ll see ... soon enough.