|While politics rarely came up explicitly from the platform, it permeated the substance of the seminars and was, simply, a given in any discussions. There was even a lecture entitled "It's All the Bankers' Fault---- Not!" given, of course, by the president of a bank, explaining that bankers were victims as much as anyone. The audience lapped it up, generally accepting the conclusion that simple, non-Wall Street bankers did not contribute to the meltdown, and that Washington (meaning President Obama) is compounding the problem, not solving it.
The entire conference was built around the presumption that policies of the federal government are wasteful and ineffective, the dollar is in an inevitable long-term decline and will be replaced as the world's reserve currency to our detriment, our enormous budget deficits cannot be sustained, and therefore inflation, maybe even hyper-inflation, is inevitable. To protect the purchasing power of your savings, diversify out of the dollar and dollar-denominated investments immediately.
Frankly, I found myself in general agreement to that point, but where the speakers went from there was, in a sense, chilling: America has had its day; many predicted a long, long recession (some a double-dip or W-shaped economic trendline, some a very slow recovery with a lengthy L-shape), probable social unrest (see how the Greeks take to the streets, objecting to austerity cuts slashing deficit spending---- the time will come when Americans will demonstrate, too), lower standards of living, and the return of states' rights so smaller local jurisdictions will replace the overweening federal government when it comes to running things. More than once the suggestion was made to move one's family and wealth to a less expensive, less regulated, less tax-burdened country. One retired businessman told me he had purchased a lot in Costa Rica (after investigating Panama and Nicaragua) and was building a house there, glad to kiss the US and its meddlesome government goodbye.
Another businessman announced that, when Governor Parry of Texas suggested secession, he called Parry and offered to provide help. Not surprisingly, I found out the businessman was an oilman fed up with federal environmental regulations; his comment was generally applauded. Along the same lines, over drinks one evening a Tea Party couple from Pennsylvania insisted that a return to the "original" Constitution would restore power to the states where it belonged. They had for the first time become involved in politics, and the man was campaigning to become a member of the Republican Committee with the intention of getting rid of all this big government; Obama should never have been elected. I pointed out that Obama was in fact duly elected, because real citizens who had previously never been involved showed up and voted. "Well, they shouldn't have voted." After a brief discussion of that, he changed his mind and said, "Well, they should have voted but they should have known what they were voting for," meaning those Obama voters were deluded.
The strict adherence to Milton Freidman Free Market Capitalism ultimately became so suffocating that I had to question it with a few of my fellow attendees. First reaction was a horrified "Don't you believe in capitalism?" (I was reminded of how Senator Mark Warner's very first comment at a business breakfast was to protest lengthily that he believed in "free market capitalism," and was not, that is, a heretic who should be burned at the stake). Next was something along the lines of "Did you vote for Obama? Ha! How's that working out for you?" Pointing out that Free Market capitalism did not work on a macro level and was missing important factors (emotion rather than pure rationality in making economic decisions, social costs, environmental costs) was dismissed: "The Market always makes allowances for all that." The idea that capitalism could take any other form than Free Market theory was inconceivable. The stranglehold this secular religion has on conservatives is awesome; the dominance of its myths appears unshaken by the global meltdown.
This complete acceptance of Free Market theory seemed to extend even to one of the blue collar attendees, an airline mechanic. He complained about how his airline had treated its union workers, breaking faith when the company took all the "give backs" the unions offered, but never delivered on the compensating donations management was to give to the workers.... yet there was no doubt he understood the need for profits.
I have to wonder how Obama can ever succeed in re-regulating various industries, protecting consumers and labor, or reforming the financial industry unless he can convince the public that Free Market theory is not working as presently practised. Unfortunately, he has not made the slightest effort in that direction, and shows every sign of total submission to the unmodified theory, following the advice of its acolytes (Summer, Geithner, et al).
I found one woman sympathetic to my contrarian point of view: an African American from Prince Georges County Maryland, who traded commodities. There may have been others, but we were so rare as to be invisible.
It is not that the people at the conference were not hurt by the meltdown and subsequent Recession. Indeed, they complained freely. Neither they nor the speakers and instructors ever questioned the economic model and theory which produced the crisis. What they want is to blame government and politicians, those rascals in Washington who dither and spend, and interfere with business. Just because the speakers have a good grasp of how the currency markets and world trade work and can project the rise of new world powers does not validate the rest of their theories, IMO.
Tea Party members who imagine a return to the Constitution of our Founding Fathers means breaking up the Union or replacing federal power with state power never realize that we have big national government because we had big companies and corporations which treated states like their own satrapies. If they are angry over Wall Street bonuses, toxic food, impersonal bureaucrats, and all those messy brown-skinned people muscling into their lily-white suburbs, how will they explain it when global corporations run roughshod over the weak locals once the federals are stripped of power?
I am rather more optimistic about America than many of my fellow attendees. Here's a spot of irony, however: There was a Pro-Am golf tournament in progress at the Fairmont while I was there. All day and night I could hear the private jets landing and taking off, ferrying in the elites to play with the pros. No Recession for that crew, it seems.