Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia”

I think it’s fair to say that your bloggers at DBC|Reads have rarely, if ever, told you that a book is “important.” Meaning, that you must read it. We recommend, we share, but we know as well as you do that we’re not all going to agree on what makes for good fiction reading, or even non-fiction reading. That’s fair.

But today’s review goes beyond reading preferences. If you’ve uttered or heard uttered any sentence involving the recent and ongoing Occupy Wall Street events across the country and believe that you are (and let’s face it, anyone reading this site probably is) a member of the “99 percent,” then you really have no business passing up Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, a spot-on recap of America from the 2008 crash to the present. Because if you’re going to challenge that 1%, you at least ought to know what it is you’re calling them out for.

Many people have said that the message of these Wall Street demonstrations is “muddled.” That in the cacophony of voices and demands, all we’re hearing is white noise that roughly translates to outrage. And maybe that’s true; maybe we’ve reached the ceiling of our tolerance and are finding all sorts of outlets for it. Even so, we can trace all that disparate outrage to a single source, and Griftopia‘s research can help point a very sharp and accusatory finger right at it. The culprit, as you may have guessed by the book’s title, is Greed.

Say what you will about Taibbi’s personal values, but his message in Griftopia is clear: greed is not a partisan issue. Lining one’s pockets is not an inherently Republican tendency and the desire to get ahead is not exclusively a Democratic trait. The events covered in the book—the burst of the housing bubble, the rise in gasoline prices—these are national occurrences for which greed and lust for money are at fault, and as long as people harbor those traits to particular ends (and those people are allowed to personally fund the election campaigns of the politicians of their choice), real change is simply not in the cards for this country.

Cue the Occupy movement, whose overwhelming battle cry is that this will no longer be tolerated. And when it comes to defining what “this” is, and how “this” was allowed to come to pass, cue Taibbi. In language that my highly un-financial mind can connect to and with which I can share common indignation, the fiduciary complications of the last 3 years are laid out in passages such as this one, which blames the rising price of oil on unrestricted commodities trading:

Imagine if someone continually showed up at car dealerships and asked to buy $500,000 worth of cars. This mystery person doesn’t care how many cars, mind you, he just wants a half million bucks’ worth. Eventually, someone is going to sell that guy one car for $500,000. Put enough of those people out there visiting car dealerships, your car market is going to get very weird very quickly. Soon enough, the people who are coming into the dealership looking to buy cars they actually plan on driving are going to find that they’ve been priced out of the market.

Even though the themes of greed and monetary lust are universal, party-less ones, Taibbi obviously betrays his own political views simultaneous to mapping out What Went Wrong. (My favorite example of this tendency is his title for a chapter on Alan Greenspan: “The Biggest Asshole in the Universe,” in which he spends a lot of time derailing Greenspan’s affinity for Ayn Rand just because he can. I ate it up.) But whether or not Taibbi is impartial becomes pretty much irrelevant once you dig deep enough into each point on the timeline of America’s financial disaster, because as it turns out, no one who actually had the answers was willing to give them up.

It became clear that none of us in the pool had a fucking clue what was causing the gas spike…[on the 2008 campaign trail] McCain blamed the problems, both directly and indirectly, on a combination of government, environmentalism, and foreigners…[Obama] blamed the problem on greedy oil companies and also blamed ordinary Americans for their wastefulness, for driving SUVs and other gas-guzzlers. …Both candidates were selling the public a storyline that had nothing to do with the truth.

And why would anyone who knew the truth at that point come forward, then or now, if they’re still profiting from the discombobulation of a muddled pack of lies on both sides of the party line? There’s that word again: “muddled.” And when you insist something’s muddled, you can, by chain-reaction, cause the most lucrative diversion this country has ever known. The best illusionists and biggest fat-cats know the value in misdirection.

So if you’re part of that 99 percent we’ve all been hearing so much about lately, it would behoove you to flip through Taibbi’s book, and further expose yourself to what he calls “The long con that is breaking America.” If you can stomach the raggedy and forcibly blue-collar jargon—my personal pet peeve when reading this writer’s work—it’ll be well worth your time. Taibbi’s got one thing going for him, no matter which way you vote: this message is more focused than a laser beam. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore. And he suggests that none of us should, either.

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