The Shadow Comfort Of Conspiracy Theories

I recently stumbled across an organization known as the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee (GATA), which exists to “expose, oppose, and litigate against collusion to control the price and supply of gold and related financial instruments.” If you believe the GATA spin, this group has been successful in exposing “Western treasury and central bank efforts to intervene both openly and surreptitiously against a free market in gold.”

Uh huh? Yes, it is too easy to dismiss the idea that Janet Yellen is the 21st century answer to Auric Goldfinger on its own terms, but it doesn’t help when one considers the source of such stupidity.

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GATA was co-founded by one Chris Powell, the editor of a tiny Connecticut daily newspaper. Powell briefly made headlines two years ago when he insisted that the newspaper industry has gone into acute decline because “newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read.”

Yes, that is an exact quote! Clearly, old sourpuss Powell is up to his clenched teeth in conspiracies.

Sadly, there are people who subscribe to the zany ideas that he is putting forward. Perhaps the most blatant financial conspiracy theory involves the decline and fall of the housing industry – and, with it, the U.S. economy – which has been explained via old-school scapegoating.

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Elizabeth Warren (yes, her again) made a name for herself insisting that the 2008 crash was the sole responsibility of lenders that conspired to go out of their way to foist problematic loans on stupid people that were incapable of understanding their borrower responsibilities. While Warren never bothered to explain the logic behind this – after all, the profit margin behind failed loans isn’t particularly muscular when compared to the harvest from well-performing loans – she successfully convinced too many people that there were no villains in the 2008 crash except for conniving mortgage originators.

Cut to today and Warren’s protégé, Richard Cordray, continues to push the conspiracy that mortgage lenders and servicers are going out of their way to bamboozle the American public. Even though the overwhelming majority of mortgage-related complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s controversial database are dismissed as being without merit, Cordray still insists that mortgage professionals are united in a conspiracy to ensure that consumers suffer and fail.

Why do characters like Powell, Warren and Cordray continue to get away with these antics? For starters, conspiracy theorists are shrewd enough to tap into the underlying distrust that many people have towards authority, taking the us-versus-them divide to unlikely conclusions. GATA embellishes the stereotype of secretive government agencies to a new depth, with tales of international collusion by the great powers over the planet’s gold supply. Warren and Cordray play the class warfare card by fabricating grand plans by supposedly deep-pocketed lenders to rob and swindle the humble working poor.

Conspiracy theorists also traffic in easy answers to questions that normally defy easy answers. Really, try to explain the international gold market or U.S. housing policies to a layman in 30 seconds. Then try to explain the hiccups and headaches of each sector in the same amount of time. Isn’t it easier to point at someone and declare that person to be at fault rather than try to present a fair yet expansive analysis that measures causes and effects?

Ultimately, conspiracies are guilty pleasures for some easy to amuse people. For this crowd, there is some silly fun in pretending that the world’s governments are secretly united in some grand gold control scheme. And on the housing conspiracies, the guilty pleasure of blaming supposedly wealthy lenders for ruining the economy can be a springboard for the expansion of suffocating restrictions and regulations that profit no one and, ultimately, create more harm than good. (Can you say “Dodd-Frank”?)

It would be lovely if we could just smirk and shrug off the aforementioned conspiracies as the harmless prattling of mischief makers. But as long as these conspiracy theorists continue to pollute the intellectual environment with their garbage, it becomes impossible to have an intelligent consideration of problems and the solutions they require.

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