It’s Panic Saturday, the last big shopping day before Christmas. As you race to find stock stuffers for your more economically curious friends, I have the very thing: Thom Hartmann’s new book The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America – and What We Can Do to Stop It.
The book is a deeply researched indictment of the forces that in recent decades have changed America for the worse. Its conclusion is uncompromising: the formerly enlightened American political and economic system has long been hijacked by an unscrupulous and greedy elite. The result is a “for the rich, by the rich” scheme that has already cost the middle classes dear and has set the nation on course for “the most catastrophic crash in American history.”
This is a big agenda for any one book but Hartmann, host of The Big Picture current affairs program, is a gifted communicator with an unparalleled command of the material. Again and again he comes up with just the right statistic, example, or anecdote to make his point.
At this point, I should declare an interest: Thom Hartmann is a friend and I have appeared several times on his one-hour TV show. The book’s cover carries my commendation, in which I describe his analysis as a tour de force.
Hartmann speaks unequivocally for the middle class, and as such is too readily tuned out by the right. Certainly to characterize him simply as a narrow-gauge spokesman for liberalism is to slight the historic importance of his message. Although he stands shoulder to shoulder with Ralph Nader and Michael Moore as an icon of the left, he brings to his analysis an unmatched and nuanced experience of the real world, and a balanced and fair approach that maintains an open door to thinkers of all persuasions through to members of the Ayn Rand Institute.
At 13, he campaigned for Barry Goldwater. After a stint as a disk jockey, he worked as an electrical engineer for RCA, an experience that has evidently alerted him to the catastrophe of America’s loss of its formerly world-beating consumer electronics. A former resident of Detroit and Atlanta, he knows what it is like to be an entrepreneur, having founded both a travel company and an advertising agency.
In a 2013 interview with Politico, Hartmann described his political philosophy as democratic socialism: “I’ve lived in Europe. I think that the countries that call themselves democratic socialist — Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland — have the most functional political and economic system. So, somebody says, what’s your political philosophy? I’d say Democratic socialism. But boy, the crap you take when you say socialist. Because people don’t understand it. They think I’m talking about Soviet-style socialism, which I’m not.”
One of the book’s key elements is a damning account of the latter-day Goldman Sachs (chapter heading: “Masters of the Universe”). Everywhere you look in the dysfunctional world of modern finance, Goldman Sachs seems to be at work. Although the firm’s motto is “Our clients’ interests always come first,” Goldman seems to have taken to a fine art the latter-day Wall Street skill of making money out of clients’ losses. He cites in particular a notorious episode in which the firm helped Greece conceal the level of its borrowings, a maneuver that when found out helped precipitate the euro crisis and dealt disaster to countless Greek citizens.
As Hartmann points out, Goldman’s old boys are widely apparent at the top in politics on both sides of the Atlantic these days. Just a few examples include former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and European Central Bank head Mario Draghi. Then there is former Goldman executive Lucas Papademos who was installed as Greece’s prime minister – to mop up the mess the firm had made. Once thing seems undeniable: their alma mater can have few complaints about whose interests its old boys are serving.