Peter Galbraith wanted to do well by doing good. He passed himself off as a diplomat who was helping the Kurds to write their constitution and to develop their oil fields. But winning a peace prize was not on Peter's mind. He wanted to secure his place in the Billionaire Bailout Society. So, reportedly, he got himself a $100 million piece (or more) of a Kurdish oil field as he was doing his good deeds. (See New York Times. We're lucky he wasn't negotiating a peace treaty in Jerusalem or he might have sold the Dome of the Rock to the settlers.)
But really, he was only doing what every other member of the Billionaire Bailout Society would do: get filthy rich as fast as you can and screw everyone else. In the twisted logic of the uber-rich, getting rich by any and all means necessary is simply glorious. It's proof positive that you're worthy. It's the only proof that matters.
So what if your actions make it look as if the U.S. is only in Iraq to steal its oil. In this case the anti-American critics would be wrong: America can't steal what Galbraith has already stolen. True greatness at work.
Andrew J. Hall is a different kind of oil speculator who also wants a charter membership in the Billionaire Bailout Society. He doesn't pilfer his booty from the Kurds. Rather, his oil trading scams are picking our pockets by driving up the price of oil just enough for him to make a killing.
Hall once worked for (or is about to leave) Citigroup. He was due to walk off a $100 million as a result of a trading contract he had with that troubled bank. Unfortunately, Citigroup was heading for bankruptcy which would have left Mr. Hall with next to nothing. But we rescued both Citigroup and Mr. Hall with hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars and guarantees.
Mr. Hall faced a ticklish problem as the new Pay Czar took the reigns over Citigroup salaries and poor Andrew's pay package. But our beloved Czar, a billionaire bailout bureaucrat, is a wise and kind ruler. He first announced that Mr. Hall's pay package was exempt because of an arbitrary cutoff date set by the Czar himself. (Czars, of course, can do such things.) Then when many of us raised holy hell about it, the Pay Czar "encouraged" Citigroup to sell Mr. Hall's unit to Occidental Oil. (Czar's can do such things, too.) So now Mr Hall will get his $100 million and then some, and we won't even know about it.
We should brace ourselves for many more such adventures in Billionaire Bailout Society. Now that we've let Wall Street is off the hook for wrecking our economy and sending millions to the unemployment lines, getting super-rich is in fashion again. We should expect a great deal more Galbraith/Hall financial "innovations." It wouldn't come as a shock if diplomats, in honor of Mr. Galbraith, sold an Army division to a needy dictator, or if Treasury officials used Fort Knox to speculate with Goldman Sachs (or did that already happen?)
I don't think this is what Max Weber meant in "Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism."
Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.