Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Say It Ain't So

One thing about reading all the ink that's being spilled over the Geithner bank bailout won't-you-please-come-play-with-us plan is I don't come away from any of the articles with an overwhelming sense of confidence. The New Yorker has two pieces on the plan, one by Nicholas Lemann and the other by James Surowiecki. I can't tell you much about the details of either one, but I can tell you I finished them and thought, "Jeez, those guys are mostly crossing their fingers hoping Obama can pull this off. That's not so good." Then there was Joseph Stiglitz's great big Op-Ed in the Times. I read that and thought, "Forget about those AIG bonuses, this is the reason to be outraged." Because Stiglitz explained, very clearly and in no uncertain terms, just what happens when you have to make a deal so sweet because the people who can play don't really have to. They have to be made to want to. In the end, someone will get the sour, and guess what? The folks who get it are not the taxpayers in the Hickey Freeman suits.

Surowieki wrote that the administration is trying to fix the economy first so it can then get to the underlying problems in the banking system itself. But I don't know that any policy can get at the only-meism that has seemed (from an outsider's perspective) to run Wall Street since, as Michael Lewis might posit, investment banks started going public in the eighties. How do you undo a system in which any sense of honor or decency can be (must be?) sacrificed for quarterly results and big fat payouts to numero uno (in a Hickey Freeman suit)? It might be that Geithner's plan comes at an in-between moment in the zeitgeist when we're shifting from the spawn of Gordon Gekko to I-don't-know-what but something more responsible than that. I just hope there's a whole lot of well-reasoned geist pushing the I-don't-know-what. Know what I mean?

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