Saturday, March 28, 2009

"You mocked the economy!"

This week's South Park was one of the most interesting takes I've seen thus far about our economic crisis.

For one thing, it was shockingly unassailable in terms of the economics involved.

It explains the way banks split up and played around with debt in a way that's extremely accurate.

But the more interesting thing is the fact that it pretty much points its finger at American consumerism as the primary culprit in this crisis. Which is -- I think -- essentially true. Obviously, there were many culprits. Not the least of which were bankers who took on way too much debt that they either assumed a) was far more sound than it was (which means they were stupid) or b) assumed was toxic, but figured they'd sell while the market was still good (which means they're stinkers).

But a greater cause of the crisis, I think, was a general attitude that money would be free flowing forever; that we could spend without consequence. That we'd all be rich just by living in our houses.

Yes, the primary culprits might be on Wall Street -- and a wild-eyed faith in the wisdom of markets and the evils of regulation -- but, when you look in the mirror unblinkingly, the American people allowed this to happen.

And in this sense, this week's South Park was a terrific indictment of that.

Moreover, it's a terrific indictment of how unknowable the crisis is. You might as well throw darts at a board (or cut off a chicken's head and take where its caracas lands as a sign of something) to come up with the worth of any real assets. The real world value of everything from houses to cars to blenders is a giant black hole right now.

The solution the show seems to proffer, however, seems pretty much in line with that of the Obama Administration: We need some sort of fiscal stimulus, and we'll worry about debt later. (Which is the Econ 101 solution.) And what's inhibiting growth is pervasive paranoia. (For good reason, perhaps.)

Of course, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park's co-creators) are Libertarians at heart -- so they could never give Barack Obama credit for essentially taking their track. (Hence, there's a sort of cheap shot at the President at the end of the episode.) Moreover, like all great comedians, they're bomb throwers. Given how beloved Obama is, there is no way they could give the guy credit for anything.

But the episode is nevertheless pretty great.