This week, the Avengers continued to confront giant mechanical sea monsters from outer space on the silver screen. In the real world, politicians and businesspeople were locked in similarly intense contests of will. The stakes in both dramas were high. The dialogue was sharp. And as with the Avengers and their merry extended family of mayhem-makers, the collateral damage -- from both their conflicts and their collaborations -- was catastrophic.
In the movie and the actual, considerably less noisy planet Earth, the battle lines were a bit blurry. In the movie, the so-called heroes are motivated by loyalty to a guy who was seeking to harness a mysterious, powerful, blue, and swirlingly 3-D power source on behalf of the Hollywood-imagined military industrial complex with a heart of gold upon which our world depends. Among their band are a narcissistic billionaire arms merchant, a demigod bent on defeating his half brother, a former assassin, and a gentle soul whom we don't start rooting for until he suppresses his better instincts and lets his anger-management issues take over (even if it means slapping around his fellow "heroes" to comic effect).
All of us who follow business and politics closely know that in real life it is even more difficult to tell who is on whose side because the good guys tend not to wear tights -- or inevitably win in the end. So, for example, in the United States, Americans watched as President Barack Obama's deep-pocketed friends at his super PAC unleashed a commercial attacking deep-pocketed Mitt Romney for having been a venture capitalist who restructured businesses with profits in mind. The effort played in counterpoint to the simultaneous saga of the bank still bearing the name of America's alpha plutocrat, J.P. Morgan, as it lost $2 billion thanks to trading mistakes just days after its chief executive was making his most recent public plea to keep regulators off the back of banks.
Obama was seeking to deliver a lasting blow to Romney's reputation, hoping to permanently cast him in the role of rapacious fat cat before Romney could offer himself up with his preferred identity, that of competent supermanager. Obama's eagerness to strike the blow this early in the campaign was perhaps due to his acute awareness of the politicians vs. businesspeople saga currently taking place across the Atlantic and its potential consequences for the U.S. elections this November. Because if Europe blows up, Obama is likely to go the way of the almost a dozen other incumbents struck down for their perceived complicity in making a mess of the finances of essentially the entire developed world. Unless, that is, Romney is seen as a malevolent force who can't be trusted to replace Obama.
In Europe, it is also sometimes hard to know who is on whose side by their job description. But essentially, Germany's politicians and bureaucrats have taken a position that they describe as being "pro-fiscal responsibility" but that also happens to be "pro-banking." It suggests that wayward countries should effectively bear all the costs of the bad deals made by the financial community when lending to those countries earlier. They suggest it creates a "moral hazard" if countries do not cover all their debts while turning a blind eye to the equally obvious moral hazard associated with letting banks make reckless loans without fearing any consequences. In France and Greece, meanwhile, politicians have taken a different stance from their German counterparts, suggesting looking out for people is as important as protecting the shareholders of big financial institutions -- even as they downplayed the complicity of governments in getting everyone into this mess to begin with.