2008: The good news, the bad news

David Brooks leads his latest column this way:

There is roughly a 100 percent chance that we’re going to spend much of this year talking about the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial markets and the worsening economy. The only question is which narrative is going to prevail, the Greed Narrative or the Ecology Narrative.

And this got me to thinking: 2008 has the potential to be a very good year politically. I might, for the first time in my adult life, have a choice in November between two presidential candidates I actually feel good about. Sure, a lot of obstacles have to be overcome. Obama might not get enough bounce from South Carolina to roll over Hillary Clinton on super-duper-pooper day. John McCain could still slip in Florida on account of the very quality that makes him viable in the fall. (Party orthodoxy types, from Don Fowler to Jim DeMint, can’t stand the thought of nominating anybody that swing voters might actually want to vote for in a general election.)

But still, there’s a very good chance that this could be the best year ever for the UnParty.

But then comes David Brooks raining on my parade. And I don’t mean the Greed Narrative vs. Ecology Narrative. Both are are excruciatingly boring. No, the bad news is that when he says "there is roughly a 100 percent chance that we’re going to spend much of
this year talking about the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial
markets and the worsening economy," I’m afraid he’s right. And this fills me with horror. It would mean a year of reading columns like this one. I normally enjoy Brooks columns, but this one was mind-numbingly boring, and stupid. Really, tell me — what the hell is the difference between the "Greed Narrative" and the "Ecology Narrative?" Doesn’t the ecology one assume greed? ("Everyone seeks wealth while minimizing risk.")

What if I get two candidates I can get excited about — not just one, which would in itself be an embarrassment of riches going by recent years, but two, a no-lose proposition — but they spend all their time talking about … what did he say? Oh, yeah: "complex financial instruments, like globally securitized subprime mortgages."

I get mad just thinking about it. Wall Street is a con game, folks. Take the equities markets (you see? they’ve already got me saying stuff like "equities"! and I probably used it wrong!) — analysts con people into overvaluing dot-coms, or undervaluing newspapers, with little regard for reality. And other people have to live and die by the foolish investments made or unmade as a result.

And then there are the folks at the big brokerage houses that invent "products," from which they make billions, when they never produced a damn’ thing. They’ve added value to nothing.

I’m not crazy about having a mortgage to begin with, but if I do make a deal like that with somebody, IGoofy_beard_005
want to deal with that same somebody for the full 30 years (or 15, if you refinanced a while back the way I did). It should be like the nearest financial thing to a sacrament. What kind of sense does it make for mortgages to be gathered up like soybeans and bought and sold in bulk… Can you believe I said "in bulk?" A mortgage has no bulk! It’s an abstract concept! Like money! When your mortgage gets sold, you have to think, it’s not bad enough that I’ve indentured myself to this institution that made me the loan for the rest of my useful life, but now I’m being sold down the river!

If they’re gonna talk about this stuff, I’m liable to haul off and start talking like John Edwards, and that would not be pretty! So back off with the money talk!

Can’t we talk about war, or health care, or something I care about? Please. If I had wanted to talk about markets and such, I would have voted for Steve Forbes. Or Pierre "Pete" DuPont. Or Mitt Romney. Or Ben Stein. Same diff.

Anyone? Anyone?

5 thoughts on “2008: The good news, the bad news

  1. Karen McLeod

    Scary. But I really think that part of the reason our system is tanking has as much to do with China almost owning us, as it has to do with the subprime lending rate. And all of it has to do with corporate greed. All of us are greedy; that’s why scams work so well. But corporate greed can get all of us scammed. I don’t understand why the government will go after minor scammers (or at least local government will), but why Republican government (especially, but not exclusively) can ignore major corporate greed until it costs us all. And why do people vote for this??? P.S. Brad, that picture of you is both cute and sexy.

  2. Mike Cakora

    A lot of them thar products Wall-Streeters have been creating over the past twenty years have proved as stable as the fireworks good old Jim Casey used to peddle. But the Street’s big shots are losing their creds; it’s only a matter of time before the investment bankers face the same music that the old time brokerage houses did as individuals and companies figure out ways to cut them out as middlemen. That’s happening slowly but surely. In ten years we’ll be asking “was it Goldman-Sax that was at the top of the heap?”
    The good news for you is that declining interest rates will save a lot of the adjustable subprime loans from foreclosure with the result that loans that have been written off will be brought back in as productive assets, some losses will be recouped; this may not be much of a topic. (Just because an investment is a write-off does not mean that it’s been abandoned: it’s still owed, just off the books as a loss. If it revives, it goes back on the books as a gain.) The lower interest rates also make foreclosed properties more attractive to investors and folks with good credit. You might be pleasantly surprised. (I, however, expect that the gates of hell are about to open, but that’s just my sunny nature.)
    And it could be that one party develops a comprehensive approach to taxes, healthcare, energy, and the other stuff that ails us. I know you won’t like this, but it’s going to take a party to do so because any comprehensive fix will involve leadership, discipline, and limited horse-trading to deal with the special-interest harpies. (I admit that this is a much longer shot that probably requires a massive shock to bring to fruition. But if the gates of hell do open… As Lucifer you might have some insight here.)

  3. Mike Cakora

    Karen –
    I think your concerns are misplaced. All creatures have to have a drive to survive and thrive; otherwise, they’d become extinct. Corporations, privately owned companies, and even bureaucratic government entities have the same drive. We want companies that can compete and win by producing superior products and services that the public willingly purchases. If that’s greed by your definition, let’s have more.
    Where I think your concern may lie is with those enterprises that can rig the market such that they gain an unfair advantage in pushing their products or capturing undeserved wealth. The long-running saga that burns my bippy is the ethanol subsidies, regulations, and tariffs ostensibly established to help the family farmer but which end up enriching a few companies, damaging trade relations with countries like Brazil and Mexico, and driving up all grain prices on world commodity markets. AND DRIVING UP THE COST OF MY BEER! Using corn-derived ethanol is insane, yet the latest energy bill throws even more money at everyone involved. The payoffs are votes and campaign contributions for those creating the laws, our Congress.
    Some candidates want to take money from the oil companies to make things fair because those evil corporations make too much money from a gallon of gas, Exxon makes about $0.13 per gallon of gasoline (after all its research, exploration expenses [to include dry holes], refining, transportation, etc.), while the feds and stated get about $0.62 per gallon. Who’s got the greed? Those who work to earn a profit or those who sit back and take what they want because they can?
    Reducing US dependence on foreign energy sources at no cost to US taxpayers is straightforward: allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and on the continental shelf. We could encourage states to allow such by permitting them to charge a fee on oil brought in off their coasts (think Alaska citizen dividend checks) and even levy a federal fee that could be used to fund Social Security payments.
    Instead we’re forcing oil companies to make risky deals with the Russkies and just standing by while the Chinese and others drill around the Caribbean and Atlantic.
    We should encourage greed, not stupidity.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Mike, it doesn’t take a party to act in time of crisis. It takes the opposite; it takes willingness to cast partisan considerations aside. Conveniently, there’s an object lesson of this atop today’s front page in The Wall Street Journal:

    WASHINGTON — On Jan. 17, Washington’s mad dash to finalize an economic-stimulus plan ran into a wall.

    On an afternoon conference call, the two top Democrats
    in Congress warned President Bush against going public with his own
    plan. "People will have to come out and criticize it if you put out a
    plan," Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said, according to
    people familiar with the matter. "It will look like you’re trying to
    jam us on this." Mr. Bush said he’d think it over.

    Democrats left the call fuming. Some discussed rushing
    out their own plan to avoid being upstaged. The effort by both sides to
    keep their partisan instincts under wraps was coming unraveled. Ten
    minutes later, the president averted a clash by instructing his
    Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, to call Capitol Hill leaders and say
    the White House would keep mum on the details of its plan.

    A week later, congressional leaders and the White House announced their
    boldest attempt yet to address the economic uncertainty that some fear
    could lead to the deepest U.S. downturn in decades.

    Mind you, I’m not saying this stimulus plan is necessarily the right action. But having slept through Ben Stein’s class, I can’t say I know what the right action is. Considering I have to trust other folks to be smart for me on this, I am WAY more likely to trust a bipartisan consensus action than a partisan one. Yes, that could mean a plan too watered down to do any good even if it moves in the right direction. Right now, I prefer the conservative (and no, folks, I don’t mean politically conservative in the popular sense; I’m using the word in a plain English manner) approach. I guess for the time being I’m trusting Brooks’ ecology to set the balance right.

    Of course, when we get to the bread lines, I might be calling for a New Deal.

  5. Lee Muller

    The right action is to roll back spending levels 2002, which is more than enough to pay for the war in Iraq, and still leave a $600 Billion surplus. That would eliminate the deficit and pay down $400 billion of debt owed to Social Security.
    Phase out Social Security over the next 5 years, so people have real retirement, instead of being impoverished by FICA taxes and dependent on the SS welfare program.
    Replace Medicare with tax credits for all medical expenditures.
    Abolish the double taxation on dividends.
    Replace the income tax with a flat 14% sales tax. Abolish the IRS. Abolish the state income taxes and property taxes. The growth of the economy would bring in more than enough revenue. In SC, tax revenues have risen enough due to the economy to have completely offset all the state income taxes. SC could have abolished its income tax and kept spending at the same high levels of 2004, but they squandered all the surplus revenues on pork.

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