December 19, 2018

The Media's Sickening Nostalgia for the Financial Crisis

“The financial crisis slashed the value of America’s publicly traded companies, put a crater through household wealth, worsened an already-appalling racial wealth gap, sent wages for the bottom 70 percent of American workers plummeting, and fed, even through the years of superficial recovery that followed, the resentment and economic insecurity that allowed a figure like President Trump to prosper. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture: It was also great fun. It was exciting. Indeed for many of the main actors — the guys and (rarely) girls at the center of the action, pushing the buttons of stimulus and making fiat money rain — it was the best weekend of their lives. A weekend from which, of course, these actors emerged as heroes. Thankfully, the financial media’s commitment to Lehman weekend trivia has allowed us not to lose sight of this happy tableau. Risk and leverage and derivatives and all that stuff: Who cares about that? The real question the world needs the answer to is: What was Jamie Dimon wearing the exact moment when Barclays killed its deal to buy Lehman?

The 10th anniversary festivities reached a peak of nostalgification when Sorkin took to the stage at the Brookings Institution to interview Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Hank Paulson about their experience of crisis month. The band, literally, was back together, and with Sorkin’s giddy prompting, the memories flowed like lender-of-last-resort liquidity. During his time in public office Geithner had a reputation for being slightly crotchety, slightly impatient — a precious egghead with too-high hair — but on stage at the Brookings Institution, free to jam with Hank and Benny, his hair long having descended from the Krameresque heights it reached during the crisis, he was positively loose, man. He was funky. Paulson rambled and contradicted himself in that inimitable way that only he and Grampa Simpson can, and as for Bernanke? Well, he was the same as always: wise old Ben, the prof with the trim beard and encyclopedic knowledge of the history of counter-cyclical stimulus who could now afford to look back on the whole crisis thingy with a fond, Gandalf-like chuckle.”

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