Sunday, March 29, 2009

Croaking at a banker

[Brad Delong deleted a version of this comment from the end of this thread, giving a defender of the abuses of the banking system the last word. 2009.09.28: minor copy error corrected.]

"If you only love those who love you, what is your reward? Even the tax-gatherers do as much."

You are judging people by their behavior with their friends and colleagues, and that tells little about their conduct with outsiders. You object that physicists are no more or less ethical than investment bankers. But physicists are not looting the global financial system. Why would I share your insider's judgment? I am not an insider; as tnh memorably said, "You're not a member, never will be." So why would I--why would any outsider--buy into bankers views of themselves?

I've no doubt that the bankers you know are mostly pleasant people to hang out with, if you are also a banker, if you are "one of them." But they are still participants in the looting of the global financial system. And memory is selective and malleable. Because you like these people, because you are one of the tribe, you remember less of their flaws than you would of a stranger, or an enemy. Outsiders see simply a tribe of looters, and you a member. If you want to change the world's view of your tribe, reform your tribe.

And, you know, you're a johnny-come-lately. Your erudition is not respected by the old timers, and they'll jettison you in a second if they think you might be a liability. You are not an insider, not really, not where it counts.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Croak of the day

And the croak of the day goes to some nameless letter-writer, as introduced by The Shrill One:
A reader writes in to complain about today’s column, in which I compared the supposedly productive activities of financial wizards to the sleight-of-hand of stage magicians.

As a magician, he resents being compared to investment bankers.

Although, I have a second choice:
What do you do if your previous organization — and the ideology behind it — has become inextricably bound in the public’s imagination to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history? Obviously, shut it down, and start a new organization with a new name.--Matt Russ

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Digby reminds us again of the astonishing egotism of the bankers who've gotten us into this mess, when Bear Sterns CEO, James Cayne shows himself an ill-tempered fool and loses his temper at the Secretary of the Treasury, saying, "You’re not an elected officer. You’re a clerk."

A bring-down for people who believe capitalists are Randian superheroes, isn't it? To be fair, Rand's heroes at least were genuinely productive and when they stopped their work, the world stopped. Not the case with most financiers. If these people had just gone on the dole, we'd all be much better off. I rather suspect there are people who really make the world work. But they're not usually the upfront, big names, and they aren't usually rich. If the people who make the world work got the money, Dennis Ritchie (operating systems), the Sutherland brothers (graphics), Grace Murray Hopper (programming languages), and so on would be the rich ones, and Bill Gates would be a successful salesman. Oh, the names I've metioned (and the many other computer scientists and people in other disciplines) have mostly done well. But, really, I know who's worth the money and it ain't Gates. So here's a tip, for the people who believe in people who make the world go around: they exist, but they aren't who you think they are, and money isn't a sign.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


On a widely-read libertarian blog, one author, a physicist, first ran a rant complaining that his students were getting overwhelmed by the mere size of numbers, and then ran an article wherein he complained about the growth of the national debt. Upon reading that, the Raven asked why he was concerned, if the national income outstripped it? No answer. Apparently all that mathematical education goes out the window where politics is concerned. Hominids. Just not rational. When libertarians make their arguments over how awful the debt is just don't believe them. They aren't reasoning, they're rationalizing. Krawk!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Lack of Imagination

Over in Balloon Juice, John Cole commenting on Newt Gingrich's new twelve-point plan, say that the radical-right Republicans are out of ideas. But they never had any--haven't in a long time. If you were in charge of the world’s only hyperpower, wouldn’t you do something other than start a pointless war? They have no imagination, only fear. And after enough deaths, and enough misery, people get tired of fear.


The past week has seen various sillinesses involving Rush Limbaugh, with the Republican Party chairman having apologized to him. The Republicans have nothing left. I'll say that again. The Republicans have nothing left. They've blown their political credibility completely. They've lost a war. The economy is in a shambles. So, what to do? Become even more extreme!

There's a new spending cap on the ballot in California. If it wins, it will limit budgets to a permanent too-low level until repealed. If this passes, California will not be able to pay its teachers, police, and firemen. (Oh, wait--it can borrow money to pay its teachers, thanks to an earmark.) Or maintain its roads and water system. It will be like a country under an embargo. Riots seem possible.

But then, riots may be what is needed to persuade the Senate conservatives to vote for the needed economic measures. It seems plain that these people's sense of entitlement will protect them from any real response to their constituents. So far the various treasuries and central banks are not doing enough. Of the US Treasury Paul Krugman writes:

And the insistence on offering the same plan over and over again, with only cosmetic changes, is itself deeply disturbing. Does Treasury not realize that all these proposals amount to the same thing? Or does it realize that, but hope that the rest of us won’t notice? That is, are they stupid, or do they think we’re stupid?
Prof, it's a lot worse than that. We don't exist to them. Lawrence Summers is so devoid of empathy he lost the presidency of Harvard by insulting the intelligence and competence of more than half the human race. Their fellow senior bankers, the people they meet at the country club, their friends and social circle--these are real to them, and the men more than the women. (And Jewish boys from Long Island who grew up reading history and science fiction and go on to win Nobel prizes in economics definitely don't exist.) The whole rest of the world just doesn't register. They are like blocks at the top of the pyramid, proclaiming that they are self-supporting.

I don't believe these people are in any meaningful sense reachable. It's just possible that Obama will persuade them to try something different but more likely that change will only come after disaster on the national scale. Remember that nothing has dented the conservative coalition in the Senate: not losing a war, not the collapse of the economy, not the dismal failure of response to Katrina. They are convinced that their personal power trumps reality, and their social circle supports them in this belief. I do not think the people in charge of Treasury [and the Federal Reserve are] is so very different. [2009.03.21: But it turns out that I was wrong about the Fed; the head of the St. Louis Fed agrees with Krugman.] But change is coming.

What, therefore, is the role of intelligent and informed people--intellectuals--in this time? (Our role, of course, is whatever we choose, and whatever we can do.) But what might we choose that role be if we want to come through the onrushing disaster not completely impoverished and contribute to setting the USA straight?