Transcript

Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. Thank you all so much for joining us. My name is Maximilian Alvarez. I’m the Editor-in-Chief here at The Real News, and I could not be more excited to be hosting this special panel discussion that we’ve got for you all today.

We want to produce more of these types of discussions, along with the great shows, podcasts and articles that we publish at The Real News on a weekly basis. Please let us know what you think in the comments and on social media. Share these discussions with your friends and let us know what you want to see moving forward, what topics you want us to address and which guests you want us to bring on, and all that good stuff.

Let’s dig into the topic for today, which is a juicy one and one that I’m sure everyone watching today has heard something about. As many of you probably already know, last week was a very interesting week on Wall Street. The stonks, as we’re calling them, the stonks were out of control. Or were they? How much control there really has been throughout this whole saga and who is doing the controlling, I think that’s one of the big topics that we want to address today. 

Anyone who’s listened to me talk for any length of time knows all too well that I am not an economist, I am not a finance pro, and I’m not going to pretend to have the expertise and insight to explain what has been happening this past week on Wall Street, what the implications are and what this saga does and doesn’t mean for those of us who want to resist the dominance and the destruction of finance capital. That’s what we have our amazing panel of guests for. 

For those who may have missed the news, the basic bullet points are last week a rag-tag group of day traders on Reddit worked together to buy shares of companies whose stock hasn’t been doing so hot as of late. The most central stock in question was that of the video game retailer GameStop, but other companies included AMC, the theater giant, and Bed Bath and Beyond.

Private hedge funds regularly profit from shorting the stock of these types of companies, including GameStop, which essentially, means that they bet that the value of that stock is going to drop. There was a bit of a narrative that formed last week, this sort of David vs. Goliath narrative, where a bunch of day traders using apps like Robinhood where able to inflate the value of GameStop’s stock by buying it and thus make the hedge funds who were betting on shorting that stock lose a lot of money.

But as each of our great panelists today have pointed out in amazing pieces that they have written for VICE, Jacobin and The New Republic, things aren’t so simple. I want to turn things over to them so that we can discuss what actually happened this past week, what’s happening now, what the implications of this are, and what it means for, again, any of us who want to actually formulate any sort of robust resistance to the dominance of Wall Street in our daily lives.

Today, we are joined by an incredible panel of guests, including, Kate Aronoff, who is a brilliant staff writer at The New Republic. Kate is also the co-author of a great book that everyone should read called, A Planet To Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. She was also the co-editor of We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism, American Style. Kate wrote a really great piece for The New Republic last week on what the GameStop debacle means for Wall Street’s ability to tackle major existential threats like climate change.

We’re also joined by Edward Ongweso, Jr., who is a likewise brilliant tech and labor writer at VICE Motherboard. Edward is also the co-host of a truly excellent podcast called This Machine Kills, and it’s a podcast on technology and political economy.

We’re also joined by radio legend Doug Henwood. Doug wrote a fantastic piece for Jacobin that was quickly used as a primer for anyone who wanted to understand what was happening with GameStop. Doug even went on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to talk about it last week, so congrats, Doug.

Doug Henwood: Thanks.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, man. Doug edits Left Business Observer and he is the co-host of Behind The News. His latest book is My Turn, which everyone should check out. 

You three are all much smarter than me when it comes to this kind of stuff. I wanted to turn things over and just ask for each of you, as you were watching these events unfold, what was really captivating your attention and what did you feel compelled to write about and explain? Why don’t we go in reverse order and start with Doug. What prompted you to write the piece that you did for Jacobin?

Doug Henwood: First of all, it’s not normal. The kinds of things I follow and write about and talk about, have for over 30 years, financial markets and such, make it to such prominence. They’re mostly just the train of specialist and connoisseurs and weirdos like me. I think there were many comic aspects to all of it, all around. It was funny to see these hedge fund guys suffer. It was funny to see Wall Street complain about there was something dishonest or underhanded about what the Reddit guys did, because Wall Street does that sort of thing all the time. They look for weak players, they look for modes of attack and they often conspire in very similar ways. 

Then to see the claims of the Redditers that they were somehow launching some kind of populist democratic assault on the princes of finance is also ludicrous. A lot of those guys just want to get rich themselves. A lot of them may have been hedge funders in disguise trying to dump their positions on the unsuspecting. The idea of Robin Hood as being some kind of democratic platform for overturning the financial system just is laughable. Among other things, they route their trades through one of the, Citadel, which is founded by one of the biggest hedge funds in the country, Citadel Securities.

The way to gain power over Wall Street is not by playing their games or trying to outwit them or play their games better than they do. They way to gain power over Wall Street is to organize politically, get state action to control them and get workers more power and capitalists less power. That’s way to get control over Wall Street.

There’s kind of a libertarian individualistic flavor to a lot of the Robinhood stuff, which is dishonest and comical. I saw somebody tweet and I can’t remember who it was, but if you think concerted trades of these sort can undo a financial capitalist, wait until we tell you what a general strike could do. I think we need to think more about general strikes and less about concerted attacks on some hedge funds that will have no effect in the long term on the power or health of the capitalist system.

Maximillian Alvarez: That was another kind of narrative that quickly emerged by the end of last week, where, like you said, Doug, it’s like the way to mobilize resistance to the game of Wall Street is not to play that game the way they want you to play it. I think what a lot of people noticed was kind of how rigged that game is when Robin Hood basically prevented people from being able to continue to buy stocks in GameStop. That really kind of set a lot of people off. I just kind of wanted to mention that because I-

Doug Henwood: I must say, to be fair to them, and not that I really want to be too fair to them, but we must say that they did have the risk. They’re exposed to the risk that the people who are buying that stock couldn’t pay. There are a whole lot of amateurs who may not have had a lot of money. There can be a lot of investigation about what went on here. There’s obviously some interest in protecting the powerful, but they’re also trying to protect their own solvency. It’s going to be interesting to sort that out over the coming weeks and months.

Maximillian Alvarez: Absolutely, and I know that’s something that, Edward, you’ve been kind of looking deeply into with the multiple articles that you’ve written over at Motherboard. Why don’t we throw things to you. As you were watching this unfold and as you are currently watching it unfold, what sorts of things have been kind of really gripping your attention?

Edward Ongweso Jr.: Yeah. Definitely, I have been really interested in the contesting narratives that have been emerging and coming to light. As Doug talked about on the one hand, the idea of a populist revolt and the other hand the idea that this is like some retail investors gone wild and they need to be regulated, and then also whether this was the platform’s fault, Robinhood’s fault, if there was a conspiratorial element or the collateral requirement that came into play. 

I think it’s been interesting because all of these, in different ways, have obscured the fact that none of this is fundamentally undermining, threatening or changing the larger financial system. Actually, it’s feeding into this PR marketing ploy that Robinhood and other firms have been trying for years, which is that universal stock ownership is really the way to go and they’re just trying to democratize finance, they’re just trying to make sure everybody can trade stocks. Most Americans, if they touch a stock, it’s through retirement savings, it’s not through some day trading activity. Also, a lot of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, so day trading would just be a devastating blow to them because it’s akin to gambling in many instances, especially the way that they gamify the platform at Robinhood.

This idea of having finance be democratized, it has an interest in, I guess, flattening what’s actually going on and obscuring who’s benefits are being satisfied by it, obscuring the role of BlackRock in the sense that BlackRock is a major investor in GameStop. While short-sellers were scaring for stock, BlackRock is there to lend securities to them if they need it, and able to make millions off of such a program, as are other institutional investors. Whether it’s at AMC, with BlackRock, again, and Fidelity and VanGuard or any of the other stocks that keep getting pushed up by some of the communities on social media traders and hype cycles in general. 

I think that as the focus gets lost, we keep getting pulled back into that libertarian impulse that Doug was talking about, where it’s just like you and the market and you just have to rely on your quick wits and information from other people as opposed to the fact that if you really want change, trading stocks in not going to do it. It might help you get rich or make some money if you’re lucky, but more often than not, you’re just going to make money for Robinhood, who’s selling your information to Citadel Group, which is then probably, its hedge fund is making a bet against it, or front-running the trade in Citadel Securities itself, because they’re a market-maker.

It’s all just, it feels very much like an attempt to use this to reaffirm and relegitimize the narrative that the market, the stock market, they’re rational, they are important, they play a key role in making sure economic reality goes along smoothly whereas what this demonstrates is this absurdity that bubbles are common, bubbles happen but this, I think, speaks to what people have been recognizing over time, especially during the pandemic, that the stock market, in that it really doesn’t correspond with the reality that workers or general people deal with day to day, and that it goes up no matter what, and they’ll probably lose if they try to play or get involved.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, so I definitely want to kind of circle back to that. I guess kind of playing on Doug’s line about you’re not going to beat your opponent by playing its game. Edward, you had a really killer line in one of your pieces where you said, as long as the house is still standing, the house is always going to win. I want to kind of turn back to that in a second but, Kate, I wanted to bring you in because you had, I think, a really interesting and unique kind of take on everything that was unfolding last week. Could we talk about as you were watching things unfold, what you saw was missing in the discourse and what you really wanted to kind of focus on?

Kate Aronoff: Yeah, I tried to ignore the story for as long as possible, and thought that I would be safely insulated from it in the climate [inaudible 00:13:19], and that turned out not to be the case. I’m glad I did end up paying attention to it. There’s not a sort of natural end to it from climate, but something that I’ve been tracking for the last year and a little bit more than that, is what’s been happening in the oil and gas sector and particularly shale, shale drilling, which really blew up right after the financial crisis in 2008. It’s this creature, sort of, of low interest rates, a very cheap debt. It doesn’t really make sense unless you have those things in place.

What you saw along the same period that you have tech stocks really rising in valuation, is fracking becomes this really sort of huge thing and profitable in a way that it just wasn’t, or not profitable, actually. You have companies of huge valuations who can now do this very hugely capital-intensive form of drilling and becoming rich. People get really rich off of it and it becomes a really important part of the energy landscape the world over.

Looking at this GameStop story and thinking, well, you know, there’s something actually sort of parallel in this, because one is the underlying value of GameStop. The company itself did not sort of revolutionize the way it was selling games as its valuation went up. Similarly, neither companies like Chesapeake Energy or any of the other big players in the shale revolution, they weren’t doing anything necessarily different than they were doing before debt got really cheap, before interest rates went down, but they sold themselves as something revolutionary, as being this really powerful force, and then they sort of became it.

That didn’t change the fact that most of those companies have not turned a profit in the last 10 years, and have consistently failed to make any money. I think this is a weird sort of creature of the last 10 years. I think Doug can certainly speak to a species of this, but that you have a really sort of tenuous relationship between what it is companies are doing and sort of what their valuation is. The most absurd example of this is something like WeWork, or Theranos or Drucero, these sort of notorious companies that get these huge valuations, whether they go public or not, and just based on very little. 

What that says to me and I think what we can take from this week or so is that there’s nothing inherently rational of markets. There’s no magic that groups of venture capitalist have to decide what activities are valuable, and they’re operating in this space that is entirely constructed by the state. The whole world that Wall Street operates in only exists just because certain laws exist to make it possible, and we can change what those laws are. 

We can change the sort of frame in which Wall Street operates, whether that’s through regulations or other sorts of predistribution or taxation. I think we can just really not take evaluation at face value, and I think that, if that is a lesson that can come out of this GameStop saga, I think that’ll be a good one just to say it’s not that Exxon Mobile or Chesapeake Energy or any of these companies inherently valuable. There’s no magic to that, but that there are individuals making very idiosyncratic decisions about what people get to become billionaires.

Maximillian Alvarez: Let’s talk about that, because this is something that I think connects the different pieces that all three of you wrote about this. In terms of what the GameStop saga reveals, or re-reveals, is this kind of disconnect between what we are told the stock market is, what its function is in society and the economy, and what it actually is, and where kind of average working people fit in that whole equation.

I think that most people, as Edward mentioned, will only really have a connection to the stock market based on what they see on the news, when we’re always told that the stock market is doing great, even when the economy for the rest of us doesn’t seem to be doing all that well. People probably remember it from the Great Recession, families like my own lost everything in that recession, including our homes.

I think that perhaps on top of that, that kind of reveals why this is such a significant story for so many people, because the world of Wall Street feels so disconnected from our daily realities, except when we learn about how it’s relating to our pensions or something like that. It feels just so disconnected and so far out of our reach that I think the very fact that regular people, the regular people who were involved, not to say that’s all the people who were involved, but the people who were involved on Reddit and day trading, who saw the stock price go up for GameStop, I think that in a society that so thoroughly disempowers us, convinces us that we have so little ability to change the machine, the system that our lives take place in, to do something that had a visible impact on Wall Street, it was too much for anyone to compute. Just seeing that kind of impact that people could have on something like the stock market was partially what made this such a big story.

Doug, I know that this has been a really big issue for you, and you’ve been leading this charge for many years to kind of highlight the disconnect between what Wall Street says it is, what the stock market says it is, and what it actually is. Could you talk a little bit about how that relates to what unfolded over the past week?

Doug Henwood: Yeah. This theory is that the stock market is supposed to be a way of rationally allocating capital on a system-wide basis towards the most profitable pursuit, most worthy pursuits, which are also the most profitable pursuits in standard ideology. That’s just nonsensical. The stock market has almost nothing to do with funding real businesses, really close to nothing to do. Almost all the stock that is traded was issued years ago, companies don’t get any money out of their stock at all. Every now and then, you have a company doing a public offering. They’re relatively small. The trading apparatus that has grown up around it is so much larger than any of that.

Venture capital firms actually do fund new businesses. That, too, is relatively small compared to the size of the rest of Wall Street. That story, that is has something to do with a rational allocation of capital is utterly nonsensical. I’m going to say there are two important features of the stock market. One is that it’s just a giant arena of mob psychology. The best thing ever written on speculative markets is Chapter 12 of Keynes’ General Theory. He does a psychoanalysis of the stock market. One of the points he makes is that to be a successful investor, you don’t have to anticipate what the actual future is going to be, just what people think the actual future is going to be. As he said, [inaudible 00:20:48] to ape unreason proleptically. It’s a lovely phrase that most economists today can’t write. 

Yeah, it’s just a big mob game. You’re trying to outwit the other guy, you’re trying to be there first and leave somebody else holding the bag when it all goes bad. And somebody’s going to get left holding a lot of bags after this GameStop thing is over, I’m sure. And now, they’re moving in on silver, although it’s debatable exactly who “they” is in this case.

The other aspect of it is, I think that most people overlook, is that the market doesn’t provide funding for real businesses, but it’s a way to create a whole class of owners, a way of creating an owning class. In the 19th century, most businesses were owned by either individual capitalists or a small partnership of capitalists. As the 19th turned into the 20th century, you developed these large public corporations that are owned by outside stockholders, and that meant that rich people were able to own, they were not tied to the fate of a single firm anymore. They were able to spread their risk and own or have a claim in the entire apparatus of the economy. 

That’s another way of thinking of a stock market, is a way to create an owning class. They extract tons and tons of money through dividends, through stock buy-backs, through capital gains. Trillions and trillions of dollars. The idea that it’s investors providing money to companies through the stock market is exactly backwards. It’s that companies are providing money to their investors through just transferring trillions of dollars through these various mechanisms.

Finally, every time that there’s some kind of disruption in the stock market, you hear these people warning, well, people, it’s going to hurt the little guy because of his pension plan. Only about half of American families have any kind of retirement account at all. The average size of that is about $65,000. That’s roughly a year’s income for a typical American household, and that’s only half of households that have these kinds of retirement accounts.

For most people, it’s utterly marginal. It’s really a story for the top 10 percent, the top five percent of the society. Somehow, they create these ideas that it’s really everyone’s, when it’s really not.

Maximillian Alvarez: I think you mentioned this on The Daily Show, that around 95 percent of stocks are owned by, like, the top five percent.

Doug Henwood: Yeah, and that’s people who own stock directly, not through mutual funds or pension funds, but people who own stock directly. If you look at it more broadly, through the indirect ownership, it’s also extraordinarily concentrated. For most people it’s, not just most, almost everyone, it’s utterly meaningless.

Maximillian Alvarez: I’m tempted to name this conversation Aping Unreason now.

Doug Henwood: (laughs) 

Edward Ongweso Jr.: (laughs)

Doug Henwood: Proleptically.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, proleptically. Edward, I know that this is also something that really comes through in the pieces that you’ve been writing. In the arena, that arena that Keynes wrote about of aping unreason proleptically, people who trade on Wall Street, they’re not stupid. They’re trying to kind of minimize and mitigate the risks that they’re going to take, and that’s kind of something that has been born out in the writing that you’ve done, where you’ve shown, look, this isn’t necessarily a David vs. Goliath sort of story where a bunch of rag-tag Redditers made hedge funds lose a lot of money. 

That’s part of the story, but also, like you said, firms like BlackRock, who have more holdings than any other firm in the world, they made a killing on this. Could you talk about, in terms of your kind of thesis that as long as the house is still standing, the house is always going to win? Could you talk a bit about how that kind of shadow game that the stock market is, that Doug talked about, how the kind of key players that you’ve been focusing on are trying to kind of control the amount of risk that they take on in that game?

Edward Ongweso Jr.: Institutional investors, they are, I think a big general problem in terms of corporate governance, in terms of how public companies, publicly-listed companies are actually run, there is something, I guess referred to generally, is like a problem of 12, where there’s a threat or a risk, that through partly the concentration of ownership and shares that a few large asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, have either top shareholder position or one of the top five shareholder positions in like 90 percent of the S&P, also coupled with the way in which these firms can take advantage of their wide holdings to issue positions, views, memos that benefit from the massive amount of holding they have to push boards to act one way, vote against a resolution, vote for a resolution, vote for a director, not a director, or by accumulating enough of the voting power, that they are the swing and decisor vote. 

Institutional investors, the real threat with them is they get obscured in these moments as operators that can influence, block social policy, political policy, veto it, essentially. I think climate is a really great example on this. Kate has reported a lot on how BlackRock itself stands in the way of a lot of potential climate policy simply because it can say, on the one hand, we’ll stop investing in this fossil fuel extraction. They’ll say they’ll stop investing in coal, but they have billions of dollars elsewhere still invested, and by virtue of investing it, they give an industry that should otherwise be dying, is unprofitable, is inflated in value, more political power, more capital to burn, more resilience and viability when it otherwise shouldn’t, and won’t, because of the looming threat of regulations.

Similarly, when we are talking about the financial system, the power that these entities have, it’s still not scrutinized as closely as it should be, whether it’s because of their ability to inculcate themselves in the Cabinet, whether it’s because their focus is something that most Americans are not just dealing with in day-to-day life, they are concerns to anyone who’s interested in making sure that public policy and regulations can rein in these firms. As long as they’re still allowed to operate with little to no scrutiny, you cannot bet against them in any way, or you can’t run against them, you can’t field policies that oppose them, you can’t seriously threaten them, unless you are going to undermine their hold on corporations across the economy, across the world.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. This time last year, give or take a couple of weeks, there was a nationwide strike in France when Emmanuel Macron was proposing to kind of totally revamp the pension system there. I remember interviewing a bunch of French strikers involved then, and there was a reason that, in January I believe, a bunch of the French strikers went to the headquarters of BlackRock and made a bonfire in their foyer. They knew who the shadowy enemy behind Macron’s policy was.

I think that you’re right, and as Kate has reported, we need look no further than energy and oil and all that stuff, and how the major players there have been kind of rigging the game. Kate, could you talk a little bit about that, and also, I know that you mentioned in your article this kind of totally ridiculous ideology that firms like BlackRock will say, where there’s an inherent rationality to the market that is going to be the driving force behind solving climate change?

Kate Aronoff: Yeah. Yeah. BlackRock is so interesting, and I think it’s helpful to sort of parse out a couple different things that are happening. One is that, as I had mentioned, BlackRock has just at every turn sought to insulate itself from any sort of regulation, most famously making sure that it wasn’t a systemically important financial institution, to lobby it aggressively, to prevent, even though it’s a sort of monopoly provider of the software called Aladdin, the risk management software, to central banks all over the world, and that is just really deeply woven into the global financial system.

It is, by all accounts, a systemically important financial institution. That, and it is integrating itself into the Biden administration in order to make sure that it is insulated further from sort of basic democratic accountability. That’s one thing, and then the other thing that’s interesting about BlackRock is that it’s not an investment bank. It is sort of what it says it is, it sells itself as, which is a big asset manager. 

What that means, with regard to climate, is that so long as the companies it’s investing in, it’s investing its clients’ money in, are profitable, they’ll keep investing in those. The vast majority of BlackRock’s products are these passive investment funds. That’s where they make most of their money, is through these funds they don’t really control. It will be like the S&P 500 that it’s indexed to, and so what they’ve done in trying to make this kind of climate turn is to create new financial products, new sustainable investment platforms, this sort of niche operating, part of their operations, which are getting bigger. [ESP 00:30:58] is becoming more profitable. It is becoming more and more profitable to invest in green things, but their bread and butter continues to be these passive funds, which are investing in Exxon Mobil and Chevron, in all of the big oil and gas companies and that they’re not really trying to change. They’re not really trying to change what that is.

On the one hand, BlackRock needs to be regulated much more heavily than it is right now, but something also has to make those companies unprofitable in order for them to stop investing in them. Otherwise, they’re going to do what they do, which is to make money. That’s the only reason why BlackRock exists. It has no social mission, it has no sort of the higher order thoughts about what the planet should look like. It’s just there to make money. 

Until Exxon Mobil or Chevron or BP or whatever is not profitable anymore, they’ll keep funneling money into them. I think that’s what really has to happen, is that you have to cut off and phase down fossil fuel production at its source, and pass commonsense regulations to make those companies, which are massively over-valued, they’re pumped up with subsidies, have gotten bailed out in the last year, are being really propped up by all of the state policy. You have to make that unprofitable in order for BlackRock to stop doing that, in order for BlackRock to stop funneling money into them. I think there’s a couple different things that have to happen, and BlackRock is really at the center of making sure that not many of them do.

Maximillian Alvarez: In our remaining few minutes, let’s talk about the what-is-to-be-done question. I think that one thing that is very clear from our conversation is that there are multiple ways that we should be thinking about that question. There is kind of the role that government can play in terms of regulating these things, but there is also the role that people can play in, like you said, Kate, kind of cutting things off at the source or disrupting the system where it’s most vulnerable. I know, Doug, that’s what you kind of said at the beginning when you talked about a general strike would be a much more effective strategy than everyone hopping on Robinhood and trying to lose a bunch of money for hedge fund managers.

By way of rounding out, what do you all think about what the big take-aways from this are, in terms of what people who see the destructiveness that is inherent in what we have watched unfold over this past week, and even the past decades, people who want to do something about it, what options do we have, both on the governmental side and on the grassroots side? Doug, what do you think?

Doug Henwood: What I’d like to see people take away from this, for one, is that the financial markets are economically somewhere between pointless and destructive. It disappointed me to see some people finding some political meaning in these shenanigans. I enjoyed the schadenfreude as much as anyone, but we have to realize it’s not going to change anything in the long term.

A concluding observation, something that could be done, which if we wanted to talk about climate, which is probably the most important long-term issue the world faces, strike the probably, it is the most important long-term issue the world faces. There could be some very interesting things that would come out of the financial regulators. The Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, some years ago made some noise, rather lonely at first, in which he said that financial markets have to recognize that carbon assets are going to be worthless some day. Shell and all the others are trading at high prices now, but they’re really sitting on assets that are going to be worth zero at some point. Regulators need to force companies and the markets to recognize this fact.

Janet Yellen has made some noises along those lines. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has. It’s not revolutionary. It’s not a general strike, but it’s something very constructive that regulators could do to really change this. It’s not going to happen because the carbon companies see the light some day. They need to be forced to. That’s the way to do it, expropriate them through rather technocratic means, but it would have a profound effect.

Maximillian Alvarez: Edward, what about you? What do you think some of the big take-aways are from this?

Edward Ongweso Jr.: I think one of the big take-aways is it feels the capital markets, or at least the rules around capital markets, are just too loose to allow, or to expect, as Doug was talking about, real change to just come from them. I think Larry Fink in Kate’s article said something like he wants capitalism to be self-regulating, as he sits on $8 trillion in assets and $21 trillion, that we know about, on Aladdin, which manages other peoples’ assets. This is small things, or I mean, not small, but reclassifying BlackRock and other asset managers too big to fail, reining them in, putting limits on passively-managed fund, actively-managed funds, but also, I think, stepping back with regards to markets themselves, figuring out how to rein in a stock market that is just decoupled from reality, or figuring out what we want to do with that. 

At the end of the day, this bubble with GameStop is also reflected with the fact that you can have companies like Uber, which never make a profit, business models exploitation, up billions of dollars after passing certain laws that let them keep their business model. You can have companies like WeWork that almost hit the market with no discernible business model as well, other than burning investor capital. 

These all speak to just the fundamental inefficiency of capital markets, and through the unbelievable amounts of power and autonomy that they seem to have from regulation. States need to come in and intervene. As everybody’s talked about here, all these faces are constructed because of the state, either through laws or also through norms that are enforced, or specific regulations, they can be constrained even further or regulation and oversight can be expanded even further. Until that is looked at vs. what some of the largest capitalists want, which is to just keep self-regulating, then there’s nothing that’s going to happen. All of that also needs to be happening at the same time as developing political power and labor power to push back on the ground as well.

Maximillian Alvarez: Kate, what are your take-away thoughts on this?

Kate Aronoff: Yeah, I would agree with everything Doug and Ed said, especially the fact that sort of mucking around in financial markets is a really poor substitute for class struggle. In Ed’s piece, he put it, the house always wins. I grew up 45 minutes from LA in [inaudible 00:38:31] City and you’re not going to beat the casino by playing the game and, more often than not, a casino will extract money from the community. It’s the real world, the story.

I think if this shed some light on just the nonsense that’s been happening on Wall Street, I think that’s good but, at the end of the day, I think the challenge is basically the same, which is as everyone has said, to have the state really place constraints and more proactively shape the world in which Wall Street operates, if not destroy whole parts of that world which are just inherently sort of destructive and also to build power, which I don’t foresee happening probably on Wall Street. That’s Reddit pages and will probably happen in more places among people coming together online and in real life.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. I’m not a betting man, but I would bet building worker power may be a more effective strategy. Unfortunately, that’s all the time that we have for today, but I so thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and I can’t thank our amazing panelists enough for making time to share their insights with us.

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let us know about it. Like I said at the top of the conversation, let us know what types of topics you want us to cover moving forward. Thank you all for joining us for The Real News Network. I’m Editor-in-Chief Maximilian Alvarez.

Wall Street was in a tizzy last week after a band of Redditors on the forum r/wallstreetbets worked together to drastically inflate the stock price of brick-and-mortar retailers like GameStop. The guerrilla stock-buying surge caused some hedge funds shorting GameStop stock to lose a boatload of money, and a David vs. Goliath narrative emerged—but the story is more complicated than that.

On this special panel, hosted by TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez, we talk about what actually happened last week on Wall Street, who the winners and losers are, and what this whole saga means for those who want to resist the domination of finance capital. Our brilliant panel includes: Doug Henwood, economic journalist and host of “Behind the News”; Kate Aronoff, staff writer at The New Republic and author of “Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet—And How We Fight Back”; and Edward Ongweso Jr., staff writer at Motherboard (Vice) and co-host of “This Machine Kills” podcast.

Maximillian Alvarez

Editor-in-Chief

Maximillian Alvarez is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network, and the host of Working People, ​“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.
 
max@therealnews.com
 
@maximillian_alv