The Haussmannization of Wall Street into Main Street.
October 3, 2008
Paris is a very difficult place to navigate for North Americans. Not only are the streets small, numerous, crooked and winding – a product of an era before central urban planning – but the main boulevards many of which were driven through the city during the Haussman renovations (1852-1870), have a baffling tendency to change their names: the east-west passage Bd Montparnasse, becomes Bd de Port-Royal, becomes Bd Saint-Marcel before it hits the Seine; the passage Bd Ornano, is Bd. Magenta, Bd du Temple, and Bd Beaumarchais as it makes its way from north to south.
But come on, really, even though it changes names… they’re the same street right?
* * *
The southern most tip of Manhattan (5681 km away) has the same pre-Cartesian charm as Paris. It is there that you can find Wall Street, a very tiny strip of roadway, home to America’s Fat Cats, who are in desperate need of a bailout as the credit crisis closes in around them.
The congressional vote of 228-205 against the bailout measure was stopped by a flood of calls to Washington from constituents, the inhabitants of the fabled Main Street. At a rate of some 6-1, the residents of Main Street expressed profound disagreement with any plan that seems to give golden parachutes to far away Fat Cats. Fat Cats need to take responsibility for their actions, just like private homeowners all over the country have been made to take responsibility for theirs. The logic of Main Street’s opinion is clear and with every member in the house up for re-election in five weeks, this message had clout.
As an especially thorough NYTimes article detailing the play by play of recent events points out: “This is what a credit crisis looks like. It’s not like a stock market crisis, where the scary plunge of stocks is obvious to all. The credit crisis has played out in places most people can’t see.”
What most people can see, however, are the shifting figures of the stock markets and their indices. The house vote was followed by a backlash as the stock market plunged. It would seem as though ‘the markets’ also have their way of participating in politics and of commanding a ‘vote’ of sorts. The phone trend evened out as some of Main Street’s residents, responding to the markets, expressed a second thought. No surprise that the markets rallied to show their approval today as the bill passed 263-171, on the second try, just over an hour ago.
To understand why stock market movement can sway constituents Joe Nocera’s book “A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class,” (Touchstone, 1995) is probably a good place to start. An detailed article in The Economist, also released today, tries to explain the material underbelly of interbank relationships that have blocked up, those invisible places that connect financial institutions to ‘the rest of us’.
This crisis began with the end of the housing bubble and the decline of subprime securities. It was during this period that new an inextricable links between Main Street and Wall Street became painfully obvious. Yet this convergence of homeowners and speculators in a single system is only the latest installment in the shrinking distance between Main Street and Wall Street. As it happens, constituents and financialized consumers have become the same people. This is the era of the constituent-consumer hybrid.
The contemporary political question is that is being faced in this election is: How is this haussmannian hybridity going to be dealt with? What form of politics will make it possible for Fat Cats and Country Mice to live so close together? The answer will lie in political innovation. The recent confusion on The Hill is a sign of this necessity…