Like many of you, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the financial crisis. But I was never able to ascertain how much of it was caused by rising rates of defaults, how much was caused by the complicated credit default swap market, and how much the securitization of mortgages may have helped lead to more defaults.
But after reading David Brooks, I’ve learned that it’s all a lot simpler than I thought:
Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like “Mary Poppins.” But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.
There’s all kinds of problems with this. First, it’s not clear what “used to” means here since it certainly doesn’t apply to the 1920s. Second, a persuasive case can be made that the end of “banker’s code” was caused not by a desire for “liberation” but by the fact that banks that had been privately held became public companies, which meant the bankers were now playing with other people’s money, not their own.
Brooks’s claim is that everything was better when people just shut up and did as they were told. Not surprisingly, his prime example of someone who’s done well by shutting up and doing as he’s told is a millionaire, former Cubs second-baseman Ryne Sandberg.
This is an argument that we often see from Villagers, whether it’s Tim Russert’s reverence for his father’s unthinking ways or Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation shtick or Howard Kurtz’s hagiography about Brian Williams and his regular guy ways. More often than not, of course, the rule-followers raise millionaire children or are themselves millionaires.
I’ve often wondered why pundits feel such a need to tell us that things would be better if we all just stopped asking questions. They must know that the public hears it all the time already, with or without their new columns on the subject.
I think the reason is this: our pundit is class is populated by wholly amoral people, most of them multi-millionaires, who got where they are, not by hard work or talent or accomplishment, but by following a certain set of rules that no thinking, decent person could accept.