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American Income Life Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer I hope we shall … crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of ow country. Thomas Jefferson As recently as last May it was all but impossible to open a newspaper or walk into a cocktail party in Washington or , New York without coming across a testimonial to the benevolence of the new world economic order. The good old invisible hand was filling everybody’s glass with festive rounds of foaming profit, and the uses of the world’s governments had been reduced to those of attentive waiters, mindful of their duty to lower taxes, stay off the backs of the people and out of the way of the band, and leave the markets -the free, unfettered, life-giving markets well enough alone. The hum of self-congratulation was so complacent that I sometimes felt constrained to raise a doubt or ask a question not because I knew the difference between a derivative and a hedge fund but because I objected to what I took to be the unspoken assignment to money of the powers properly associated with the human intellect and imagination. Although I was only an occasional reader of the dispatches from the frontiers of the global economy, I couldn’t help but notice occasional anomalies. South Korea was reporting unpaid wages of $334 million, stores of unsold wheat were rising like Egyptian pyramids on the Dakota plains, and an alarming number of Ralph Lauren polo shirts were stranded on the docks of Canton. In Indonesia the general population was eating mostly insects. The rioting in Jakarta had quickened in intensity throughout the month of April students burning flags; looters ransacking Wal-Mart, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Pizza Hut; rich Chinese merchants so frightened of the mob that they were attempting to rent a column of tanks and on May 21, the rupiah having lost another 40 percent of its value in almost as many days, General Suharto at last resigned. None of the observations disturbed the fortunate consensus gathered on the editorial page or the lawn. Yes, of course, certain difficulties remained, and maybe it was true that 30 million Indonesians had been forced to retire from the middle class into the mud of poverty, that the Japanese banks, stubbornly refusing the program of healthy financial exercise recommended by the therapists at the International Monetary Fund, continued to confuse the arts of accounting with the symbolic movements of the Kabuki theater. So what? Difficulties always remained –like the peanut shells under the field-level boxes at Yankee Stadium but by and large and most things considered, last year’s crisis had been averted; the global economy had weathered the storm of the Asian currency devaluations, had recovered its composure in Russia, was looking brightly forward not only to the birth of the euro but also to the prospect of stability in Nigeria, prosperity in Italy, equilibrium in Brazil. Prices continued to move firmly upward on the Wall Street stock exchanges, and Alan Greenspan, that great and good chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank named de facto captain of the American ship of state since President Clinton had fallen overboard with Monica Lewinsky, saw nothing on the calm horizon but blue sea and white sailboats. The optimism didn’t survive August’s calendar of political and economic events. Terrorist bombs destroyed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, and within the brief span of the next twenty-four days Iraq once again dismissed the U.N. arms inspectors, calamitous flooding in China forced the evacuation of 13 million people and the abandonment of 5 million dwellings, civil war in Kosovo chased 200,000 ethnic Albanians into starvation or the forest, American cruise missiles obliterated a barracks in Afghanistan and a chemical factory in Khartoum, the Japanese banks acknowledged non-performing loans in the amount of $550 billion, and prices on the world’s stock markets fell into steep decline, the Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a loss of 1,344 points, and the Russian economy collapsed, what little was left of Yeltsin’s government devaluing the ruble and suspending repayment of its foreign debt. By the first week in September the American State Department was advising its dependents to flee their embassies in Albania, Pakistan, East Africa, and Congo, and the American news media were wondering why roughly $1.5 trillion of the world’s wealth had vanished as mysteriously as the last unicorn. Historians presented analogies, politicians expressed hopes, economists recommended policies, moralists passed judgment. Nobody was singing any more hymns to Mammon, The lamps of allegiance had been extinguished in the electronic twinkling of 10,000 computer terminals, as stock JANUARY 22, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15