Friday, October 3, 2008

OpEd at the NYTimes - always a treat

Let's start with David Brooks. David Brooks, conservative columnist, whose wife and kids are Obama supporters. David Brooks who has written in the last week or so highlighting Sarah Palin's incompetence. Today, in his post-debate piece called "The Palin Rebound," Brooks writes: "During the vice-presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin took her inexperience and made a mansion out of it. Where was this woman during her interview with Katie Couric?" My first reaction is reading the essay was - how much did they pay Brooks to write that? But then I started reading the comments. I didn't read every one, just skimmed, but I did not find ONE comment that didn't blast Brooks. Many started with the question "David, were you watching the same debate I was?"

So, my take on this is that Brooks needs to defend his creds as a conservative columnist. He writes a column favorable to Palin, to make up for straying in the past. He KNOWS the comments will blow his piece out of the water. Way to take one for the country, David!

So, let's move on to Judith Warner, whose piece is called "Waiting for Schadenfreude." [schaden=damage, freude=joy; therefore, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.] The contrast between the mental resources required to read and think about these two essays is analagous to the contrast between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. (As some have noted, there is almost a gender reversal for Biden and Palin - read this piece on HuffPo about what Biden has done for the image of fathers.)

Warner's premise is basically that while we by rights should feel angry at Wall Street and joyful that they've gotten their comeuppance, how we really feel is a lot more complicated than that. There is hope that the bursting of the Wall Street bubble will level the playing field in terms of housing costs and salaries. For those who have accepted that there is more to life than money, the demise of Wall Street should be seen as a form of vindication and validation. But the fear that we all feel that the collapse of Wall Street is a prelude to the collapse of the American economy overshadows any pleasure at the fall of the "masters of the universe." (Tom Wolfe, I hate that term.)

As with the Brooks piece, the comments on the Warner essay are as good as the article they're written about. A couple of excerpts:

Focusing on N.Y. and Wall st. diminishes the most important point “Wealth Worship”. Wall st. isn’t just N.Y. anymore, I’ve personally witnessed whole families being destroyed in places like Minnesota too. Grown children in fabulous carrers depreesed and even committing suicide because they can’t measure up to or even understand their stockbroker fathers obsession with money. . . Were are our values?The cure is to teach our children the key to happiness ; a career you would do even if you didn’t get paid to do it..— Mark Yurkiw

Finance is an essential component of modern capitalism, but it doesn’t produce any real goods and services, itself. Henry Ford said something to the effect that if you’re only in the business of making money, it’s not a very useful business . . . — fred schumacher

On to Paul Krugman. If you weren't afraid after reading Judith Warner, you will be after reading "Edge of the Abyss." About the state of the US economy, Krugman writes:

"How bad is it? Normally sober people are sounding apocalyptic. On Thursday, the bond trader and blogger John Jansen declared that current conditions are “the financial equivalent of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution,” while Joel Prakken of Macroeconomic Advisers says that the economy seems to be on “the edge of the abyss.”

And the people who should be steering us away from that abyss are out to lunch . . .

Krugman doesn't offer much hope for stabilization of the economy anytime soon:

"For the fact is that the plan on offer is a stinker — and inexcusably so. The financial system has been under severe stress for more than a year, and there should have been carefully thought-out contingency plans ready to roll out in case the markets melted down. Obviously, there weren’t: the Paulson plan was clearly drawn up in haste and confusion. And Treasury officials have yet to offer any clear explanation of how the plan is supposed to work, probably because they themselves have no idea what they’re doing.

Despite this, as I said, I hope the plan passes, because otherwise we’ll probably see even worse panic in the markets. But at best, the plan will buy some time to seek a real solution to the crisis."

A comment posted to the Krugman essay that echoes what most of us are probably feeling:

October 03, 2008 7:37 am
I thought 9/11 would be the most cataclysmic, disruptive history I would live through as a US citizen... but now I am heartbroken to say I may witness the actual destruction of our nation.
tim, Athens, GA

Last - AND least - is a snarky little piece by Bethany McLean called "The Borrowers." I am compelled up front to say she is NOT talking about me or even about most of the people I know when she writes:

"But who made the decision to take on that mortgage she couldn’t really afford? Who lied about her income or assets in order to qualify for a mortgage? Who used the proceeds of a home equity line to pay for an elaborate vacation? Who used credit cards to live a lifestyle that was well beyond her means? Well, you and I did. (Or at least, our neighbors did.)"

Not quite. The only loans we have are to pay college tuition (total of $412,000- how many people do you know could pay that without borrowing, even after saving for 35 years). I know people who have big credit card debt, but it wasn't aquired financing much of a lifestyle. Ms. McLean should show a little more of the responsibility she talks about when she ascribes her lifestyle choices to those of her "neighbors." (No comment section on this one.)

1 comment:

Avatar said...

Wall Street didn't cause this mess. It was the poor management of Freddie and Fannie. People like Mudd, Gorelick, Franklin Raines, and James A. Johnson pirated Freddie Mae. In the 80's Freddie almost went out of business from investments in mortgage backed securities and investments in real estate.