In his book, Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’ Rourke has a chapter called "The Whiffle Life"--no matter what we do, we can often save ourselves from the consequences of our actions. In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, the influential financial writer, Jim Grant has a fine essay arguing that the recent bailouts of Bear Stearn’s creditors (though not Bear itself) and of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suggest that that attitude has hit our financial markets. Why? Because the Populists won the 20th century:
Wall Street is off the political agenda in 2008 for reasons we may only guess about. Possibly, in this time of widespread public participation in the stock market, "Wall Street" is really "Main Street." Or maybe Wall Street, its old self, owns both major political parties and their candidates. Or, possibly, the $4.50 gasoline price has absorbed every available erg of populist anger, or -- yet another possibility -- today’s financial failures are too complex to stick in everyman’s craw.
I have another theory, and that is that the old populists actually won. This is their financial system. They had demanded paper money, federally insured bank deposits and a heavy governmental hand in the distribution of credit, and now they have them. The Populist Party might have lost the elections in the hard times of the 1890s. But it won the future.