There may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counterterrorists. But in the 16 months since that other calamity in downtown New York — the crash precipitated by the 9/15 failure of Lehman Brothers — most of us are still ignorant about what Warren Buffett called the “financial weapons of mass destruction” that wrecked our economy. Fluent as we are in Al Qaeda and body scanners, when it comes to synthetic C.D.O.’s and credit-default swaps, not so much.
What we don’t know will hurt us, and quite possibly on a more devastating scale than any Qaeda attack. Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin. Without that reckoning, there will be no public clamor for serious reform of a financial system that was as cunningly breached as airline security at the Amsterdam airport. And without reform, another massive attack on our economic security is guaranteed. Now that it can count on government bailouts, Wall Street has more incentive than ever to pump up its risks — secure that it can keep the bonanzas while we get stuck with the losses. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — It’s always struck me as odd that the expression “parasite on society” is so often applied to society’s least fortunate members. On the contrary, it is those who like bloated ticks engorge themselves at the host’s expense who are surely the real parasites.
Frank Rich picks the right metaphor, yet at this time America’s nemeses far from being hunted down by the US government have instead repeatedly been provided with a safe haven.
Should we make any distinction between those who harmed us and those who now give them protection? Indeed we should because it is the banking bandits who should be brought to justice. Indiscriminate rage against government simply helps the culprits stay in hiding.
Still, there is one caveat I would add before getting completely carried away with this populist vent: the greed on Wall Street is not an aberration — it simply represents one of the most extreme expressions of American values.
The titans now reviled were until quite recently revered as models of American success, for in society at large we still too often measure success by the outcome — how much gets accrued — rather than the path that led there. We value rewards above accomplishments.
Wall Street couldn’t wreck America if America didn’t have a propensity to wreck itself.