A campaign has emerged to encourage people to move their accounts from Bank of America. The reasons for not wanting to be associated with Bank of America are legion, and I think everyone is perfectly justified in not doing business with them if they so choose. (Full disclosure: my accounts are there, because I thought it prudent to choose a national bank when I was on the job market, given that I didn’t know where I would end up, and now I’m too lazy to change.)
I think this campaign is fundamentally misguided, however, in a way that points to how completely screwed we are. First, everyone in America is implicitly in business with Bank of America whether they want to be or not, given its status as Too Big To Fail. If this campaign somehow took off to such an extent that their business was put in serious jeopardy, they would be bailed out again — and even in the best case where they were nationalized and broken up, it would require considerable government outlays. Given the current political dynamic, the resulting deficits would almost certainly be used to justify further cuts to social services. And then there’s another layer: as bad as Bank of America’s current practices are, the consequences of another major financial crisis, which their collapse would surely precipitate, would be much worse. (And it goes without saying that academics are more vulnerable to the consequences of a financial crisis than most.)
This isn’t a reason to keep your account there (or to justify my largely passive choice to leave it there), but just to show what a terrible blackmail we live under: the alternative to the success of these brutally immoral institutions that are sucking us dry is absolute economic chaos.
This is the status quo that all of our political leaders are absolutely determined to maintain. In this respect, it didn’t matter whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama got the Democratic nomination, or whether Obama or McCain won the election in 2008 — the bailouts would have happened no matter what, in basically the same disgustingly unaccountable way. (Now, in fact, European leaders are looking to TARP as a model for rescuing their own banks.)
The fantasy of “trickle down” is long gone — instead of promising us that if we let them do their thing, some of their wealth will flow down to us, they’re now baldly telling us that we’d better let them do their thing or else we’ll be swept away in the flood. And the most distressing thing is that as matters stand right now, they’re probably right.