The problem with fixing Wall Street is it can’t be fixed

Jobs from Indeed

One of the most buzzed about moments on the Internet during Tuesdays #DemDebate was an exchange about Wall Street between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When asked about her ties to the banks and financial institutions directly responsible for a continuing economic crisis, Clinton first responded in the defensive, saying that she represented Wall Street as a Senator from New York. And then she continued, detailing how she had resisted their foreclosing and speculation: I said, Cut it out.

This earned her one of the more biting responses from Sanders: Congress does not regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress. Going to these banks and saying, Please do the right thing, is kind of naive. Bernie Sanders is rightWall Street is beyond mere reform, and Clinton is not the person to enact it.

Clintons relationship to Wall Street has been a long and murky one, and it includes her husband, Bill Clinton, as well as her daughter, Chelsea. The New York Times reported that Hillarys son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, a money manager, has unduly benefited from his access to investors via the Clintons. Meanwhile, the Clinton Foundation has long been the subject of controversy; the Times also reported on financial improprieties that involved the foundation capitalizing off Clintons former position as Secretary of State.

Clintons proposed plans to curb Wall Street are mostly about oversight and knuckle raps, sprinkled with words like transparency and accountability, the same buzzwords frequently used by both corporate and nonprofit entities to indicate rhetorical rather than actual force of action. Most of what she has to offer in the details will have little to no effect, and Clintons record and her familys close ties to Wall Street makes it unlikely that she will pursue any real means of reform.

That being said, one of the more fascinating aspects of Hillary Clintons attachment to Wall Street is not simply that it exists, but the particular story that she weaves around it. She consistently creates a homespun narrative of hard work and success while erasing the ominous presence of, well, brutal capitalism itself.

TheNew York Timesreported that Hillarys son-in-law,Marc Mezvinsky, a money manager, has unduly benefited from his access to investors via the Clintons.

Asked during the debate about how someone like her, with all her wealth, could lead ordinary Americans, she responded, Bill and I did not come from money; we worked hard our entire lives. I want to make sure every single person in this country has the same opportunities that he and I have had. Earlier, in her opening statement, she spoke of herself as the granddaughter of a factory worker.

While Clintons grandfather was in fact a factory worker, her father was a wealthy businessman and she grew up in the affluent suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois. She has never been poor in any sense of the word. As for Bill Clinton, it is certainly the case that he did not come from huge wealth, but he grew up comfortably middle class. He did have to go to schools on scholarships, but one of them happened to be the Rhodes scholarship to Oxford.

When he left office, the family was reportedly in deep debt, owing millions in legal fees after the Monica Lewinsky lawsuit. Since then, theyve built a virtual empire that now, with the advent of a grandchild, is beginning to look a lot like dynastic wealth. Together the two of them have a net worth of $55 million. Chelsea Clinton has not hesitated to reap the rewards of her family connection, netting as much as $600,000 for a job at NBC, which included scant reporting. Her wedding cost $3 million, and she currently lives in Manhattans Flatiron building, in an apartment for which she paid $10.3 million.

All three Clintons are reputed to charge massive speaking fees. Since 2014, the senior Clintons together made more than $24 million in speaking fees alone.

This invisible movement of capital, massively profitable for only the largest speculators, was eventually packaged as something everyone could access. The advent of the television/social media financial advisorremember Suze Orman screaming at you not to have so many cappuccinos?meant that millions of people were duped into believing that pension funds were silly and that they could all become millionaires overnight if they would just learn to watch their stocks and invest wisely.

All of that has proved fruitlessHelaine Olen points out that packing your lunch and cutting out the caffeinated foam is of no use in an economy where salaries have stagnated at the same time as the costs of non-luxuries have gone up. But the myths about easy money and the idea that ordinary people can live like the Kardashians persist. These myths are what allow us to believe that millionaires somehow make better politicians because they are, as Donald Trump puts it, self-funded (hes actually not, but thats another story).

But its not just that Mrs. Wall Street, as Clintonhas been called, wont defang the wolves of New Yorks financial sector. They also cant be tamed.

Given all of this, Americans may not want to hear the truth about capitalism from a man who describes himself as a democratic socialist and insists that public colleges should be free. They may, instead, prefer to prefer what amounts to a lie from Hillary Clinton, that our job is to reign in the excesses of capitalism so that they dont run amok and doesnt cause the kind of inequities that were seeing in our economic system. They may find solace and even pride in her assurance that we would be making a mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders points out that the great middle class is disappearing, and that may not be a truth voters want to hear. Sanders has, thus far, seen some unusual success in making his case, but in times of economic anxiety, Americans are more likely to buy into the comforting narrative that if we can just reign in capitalism and save it from itself, we will be all right.

The question remains: Can Clinton convince voters thatif we just ask them to cut it outthe brutal and unhindered machinations of Wall Street can lead to sleepily prosperous Main Streets across the country? If the answer is yes, we can only expect more years of an unending economic crisis everywhere.

Yasmin Nairis a freelance writer, activist, academic, and commentator, the co-founder of the radical queer editorial collectiveAgainst Equality, and a member of the Chicago-based group Gender JUST. Follow her onTwitter.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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