Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nationalization, By Any Other Name

The word "nationalization" has put fear and trembling into the American marketplace, and understandably so. It rings of socialism, of the European model, of the Third-Way progressive compromise. It's the death knell of the American form of free-market capitalism that is the foundational pillar beneath our symbolic hegemony over the rest of the world.

Apparently our current administration and its Congress don't believe this for a minute, because they haven't yet caught onto the fact that the word needs more than just denial; it needs replacement.

So far, they have been very quick to grasp the emotional impact behind words, to wit their choice of name for their stimulus package, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. We all know that this latest effort is really The Wild Attempt to Save Our Butts From Depression Act of 2009, but to use such blatant language would be ... well, depressing. Our savvy legislators know this, so they found a nicer name for it.

In the same vein, I wonder why no one has yet come up with the suggestion that our government's bailout actions--looking more and more like nationalization--be renamed something more palatable, rather than simply denying that nationalization is what's going on.

Let's take the example of Citigroup. So far, the government:

1. Has pumped billions of taxpayer dollars into their finances to avoid its collapse;

2. Will convert some $25 billion of preferred shares to common stock, effectively diluting existing shareholders' stake by 74%;

3. Has discussed "whether to require the removal of Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit" but decided that it is "impracticable to oust him" mainly because there's no one to replace him;

4. Is forcing the replacement of every Board member;

5. Is watching every move Citi makes, and management is trying desperately to mind their Ps and Qs.


If that isn't nationalization, I'm not sure what the word means.

Webster's relevant definition is:

"2. to transfer ownership or control of (land, resources, industries, etc.) to the national government"

So let's stop kidding ourselves. A rose, by any other name.... But wait. In fact, as any politician knows, Shakespeare was wrong. You can change the scent of a rose; all you have to do is call it something else.

So instead of watching the public wallow in self-pity as the US government denies nationalizing Citigroup, they need to find another name for it. Something "du jour," something we can empathize with and latch onto.

How about "recycling"? After all, isn't that what we do with smelly trash these days? We pull out what is useful, save it, and bury the rest. The government has no intention of "nationalizing" Citigroup; they simply want to carve out the rot and sell what's left back to its private shareholders, right? So let's not hear this "n" word anymore.

[Thanks to for the photo.]

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