Bailout fails in Congress; Dow falls; Wall Street eerily silent. Now what?

I paid a second, shorter visit to Wall Street today, in the midst of the sharp crash that followed the House of Representative’s surprise rejection of the financial bailout bill. It was just plain quiet. Only two, fairly sectarian-looking representatives of public protest stood at Wall and Broadway, amid a tableau of tourists and television cameras, slack-jawed business people and an unearthly calm.

It’s hard to believe that the alarms of emergency sounded by both parties and much of the media didn’t push the package through, but they didn’t. The House roll call shows that this wasn’t a resistance of the left, but of the bottom, of people across the country and the political spectrum who didn’t want to be pushed into a massive government buyout of junk debt. Oponents included people I respect like antiwar maverick Barbara Lee and former Black Panther Bobby Rush and people I disdain like Cuba hawk Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and anti-immigrant zealot James Sensenbrenner.

Meanwhile some people on the supporting side, including Nancy “Does she really represent San Francisco” Pelosi, have been inspired by the crisis to speak of principles if not act on them, saying this before the vote:

They claim to be free market advocates when it’s really an anything-goes mentality: No regulation, no supervision, no discipline. And if you fail, you will have a golden parachute and the taxpayer will bail you out. Those days are over. The party is over.

With the express train to a quick bailout now derailed, we may have time to do some collective thinking about the future of our economy. A list of big ideas begins here:

  • Economist Dean Baker (who among other things, called the housing bubble back in 2004) argues things aren’t so urgent after all: “the worst case scenario is that we have an extremely scary day in which the markets freeze for a few hours. Then the Fed steps in and takes over the major banks. The system of payments continues to operate exactly as before, but the bank executives are out of their jobs and the bank shareholders have likely lost most of their money.” (“Why Bail?,” Huffington Post)
  • Bailout Main Street is compiling a list of counter-proposals.
  • Former CIA analyst turned critic of empire Chalmers Johnson notes the government’s long term financial crisis (read potential bankruptcy) boils down to war. (“We Have the Bailout Money–We’re Spending It on WarThe Nation)
  • Katrina vanden Heuvel & Eric Schlosser echo protesters’ call for a “New Deal for Main Street” (America Needs a New New Deal, The Nation, op-ed in Wall Street Journal)
  • Jeremy Jacquot asks “What About the Climate Crisis?