My New Reality Show: COPS on Wall Street

Krist Novoselic's column runs every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly.
The financial house of cards, glued together by toxic loans and exotic lending schemes, is falling apart. The phrase "it's the economy, stupid" has never had a more menacing implication. Considering all the hard working people who played by the rules and are now badly affected by the downturn, it's the treacherous economy. Folks are hurting, and it only rubs it in that taxpayers bailed out the financial firm AIG in the sum of $170 billion and their executives are still handing out $165 million in bonuses!

That's why I propose a new reality show: COPS on Wall Street.

You know the show: A camera crew follows around law enforcement officers while they bust poor people. To tell you the truth, the show is hard to watch, and I can only take a small dose of seeing some screwed-up wretch getting arrested. But I still tune in, thanks to that weird rubberneck phenomenon: Ever get caught in slow traffic only to come upon the wreck that's actually on the other side across the freeway barrier? Traffic was slowed because people on my side had to gawk at the accident!

Anyway, on my show, instead of showing COPS busting poor people with $50 worth of crack in their pockets, let's appeal to our common voyeuristic sensibilities and send the cameras into the boardrooms of the corporate looters! "Bad boys, what they gonna do when they come for you!"

Of course, the CEOs have whole floors of attorneys to pick over any complaint, warrant, or subpoena. It's a legal moat that protects their high castles of power, but instead of sharks and alligators they have lawyers.

I know the law enforcers on COPS are mostly hard-working people, so I have no issues with them. But it's a lot easier to cruise through low-income neighborhoods busting the screw-ups than it is to charge the towers of finance, even though the financiers can destroy far more than your garden-variety crackhead can. It's indicative of the freewheeling, high-flying nature of our financial system that someone like Bernard Madoff can easily blend in to pull off a colossal Ponzi scheme.

When I was 19 years old, I worked in the warehouse at a Sears department store. There was one lady who sold insurance out of a booth. One day she asked me if I wanted to buy a ticket on the airplane. What? I didn't plan on traveling. She said no, it was an investment opportunity: For $20 I could buy a ticket on the airplane and then sell seats to others for the same amount and make my money back. I told her, "Sorry, I work for my money," and she seemed appalled. As I walked away I could hear her tell others something about "these kids" and blah, blah, blah.

I was getting paid $3.35 an hour at the time, and no way was I going to hand over six hours of take-home pay! Stacking boxes was real work handling real merchandise, unlike the abstract scheme I was offered. Others in Aberdeen had bugged me about this airplane ride, and I never went for it--I didn't want to start approaching others, and I'm sure by the time the Ponzi scheme got to me it was near collapse.

People who invested in Madoff thought they were dealing with a legitimate financial firm. We're all concerned about crime, but how can we have a civil society when the people at the top are corrupt themselves? Meth-heads are treacherous, but so are many financiers. And there's a connection: When the economy goes bad and people lose jobs, social dysfunction like substance abuse, domestic violence, and petty crimes rise.

So here's a tip to the TV producers: These days, watching a financier get busted could draw more viewers than your average household train wreck. It's too bad that the wreck on the TV show I'm pitching is the current state of our economy.

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