Book Review: Greedy Bastards, By Dylan Ratigan

by: Hazel Henderson

As a frequent watcher of the Dylan Ratigan TV show daily from New York on MSNBC, I am hardly an unbiased reviewer. In fact, I enjoy Dylan's frank truth-telling after the daily bromides on CNBC, his former employer which he quit in disgust. As a former financial reporter for Bloomberg, Ratigan knows his subject and reported fairly and factually the market meltdowns of 2008 and the many bailouts that followed.

As Ratigan reported daily on the lobbying, backdoor deals and machinations while watching the major incumbent players as they derailed needed reforms, he became ever more disillusioned about US capitalism. Greedy Bastards (Simon and Schuster, NY 2012) describes his evolution as a financial analyst to a protagonist for fundamental reforms in six sectors of the US economy he sees as entrenched, obsolescent legacies from the past century. Since Ratigan has a huge following and many media friends , the book is already on the New York Times Bestseller List. Ratigan's pugnacious title reflects his outrage at how vast sums of money, powerful special interest lobbies and subservient media have stolen much of US democracy.

Central to Ratigan's reform proposals is his crusade on his TV show and at to pass an Amendment to the US Constitution to overturn the appalling Supreme Court decision in 2010 known as Citizens United (see "Supreme Court Shocker") which has opened the floodgates to even more corrupting money in US politics. We see the new "Super PACs" spawned by the ruling now dominating the US presidential election in 2012. Corporations can now join the fray, giving unlimited secret money to defeat any politician who crosses them with massive media attack ads. So far, they do not have to even disclose these to their shareholders. A group of courageous companies, all fed up with being shaken down by politicians from both parties, announced that they would no longer give money to any political candidates or campaigns.

Ratigan's six sectors needing fundamental restructuring are: 1) banking and finance, which he defines as having become "extractionists" rather than the useful capitalists they were; 2) the military-industrial complex, now larger and more costly than all other military forces in the world; 3) the health industry, including insurance, pharmaceuticals, for-profit hospitals, fee-for-service doctors and other providers; 4) global corporations pushing rigged trade agreements, off-shoring US jobs and hiding their profits in offshore tax-havens (including GE which owns NBC and MSNBC, Caterpillar, Wal-Mart, John Deere, automakers, etc.); 5) the energy sector built on waste and perpetuated by huge government subsidies to coal, oil, gas and nuclear and profiting from externalizing its costs, from pollution, safety violations, etc.; 6) transportation based on wasteful automobiles, starving mass-transit and creating unsustainable suburban sprawl and unhealthy cities. Ratigan also cites the communications, entertainment and mainstream media which dumb down and misinform voters, driven by commercial advertising which distorts issues, denies clear debate on vital issues and is now reaping huge profits from the unlimited political advertising encouraged by the Supreme Court. Lastly, Ratigan examines the US education industry, rising tuition in the older non-profit elite universities and the rise of for-profit colleges run by companies traded on stock exchanges. Students are enticed into debt traps saddled with unmanageable debts and now with few jobs available to repay them.

What Ratigan describes is simply the need for a whole-system transition as all countries are now linked in a form of globalization driven by finance, economics and technologies whose impacts have produced many unforeseen and negative as well as positive consequences. Futurists have studied these globalization trends (including myself) for decades and come to many similar conclusions on the need for whole-system re-structuring. The reforms Ratigan proposes are reasonable and widely discussed around the world – if less so in the USA. They are on the agenda at the G-20 and the upcoming summit Rio+20 in Brazil, June 20-22, 2012.

Reforms still needed to downsize the global financial bubble include breaking up TBTF banks, a global financial transactions tax of less than 1% to reduce speculation and high-frequency trading, reinstating a new "Glass-Steagall" law to separate and protect retail deposit banking, raising capital requirements and trading margins while putting all derivatives on exchanges. Ratigan discusses all this along with the need to prosecute those who precipitated the financial mess. He might well have included corporate agribusiness and the few companies Monsanto, Conagra, Archer-Daniels Midland, who control much of the world's food and those who process and market it: Pepsi, Coca-cola, Unilever, Kraft, fast food chains, etc., and their implications in unhealthy diets and habits.

Strangely, in his wide-ranging search and identification of viable, smarter alternatives, better companies, innovative technologies and entrepreneurs, Ratigan missed many in plain sight: American Monetary Institute, ASBC, BALLE, B-Lab, the Capital Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, Investors Circle, the New Economics Institute, the Public Banking Institute, Slow Money, SVN, Development Alternatives, the Green Economy Coalition, the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets and the World Future Council, including those promoted by Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) on new indicators beyond GDP, Ethical Markets surveys with Globescan, Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, the TV series on Transforming Finance and Growing the Green Economy; the Green Transition Scoreboard® and the EthicMark® award for advertising that uplifts the human spirit and society, in cooperation with the World Business Academy.

Help is on the way, Dylan!

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.