Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Stuff Blue Eyed People Like

Throughout this latest economic crisis, we've been desperate to find someone to blame.

After all, there is a lot of lag time to fill, a lot of op-ed pages to opine on, between a multi-trillion dollar crash and eventual recovery.

As any studio head worth his seven figure paycheck can tell you, it's hard to hate a system. There's no payoff when the evil villain is all of us.

When bad things happen to good countries, there's got to be someone to indict--(and we haven't yet figured out how to make A-Rod take credit for the credit crisis.)

For a while, there was Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers. He looked like a bad guy--heavy brows, a pompous manner. There was even something mildly Nixonian about his jowls that just made the hair stand up on the top of Andy Rooney's eyebrows.

But then the Fed let Lehman go under, and Fuld was out one multi-billion dollar brokerage house.

Then, there was Henry Paulson, the secretary of the federal treasury, but that was so unsatisfying, really. Let's face it: he had just taken over the job from Alan Greenspan.

Alan Greenspan actually may be the man most responsible for this mess, but he's so kindly-looking--particularly for someone who revered Ayn Rand.

Bernie Madoff stole $65 billion, a lot of it from charities and foundations. He was good to hate, but then he pled guilty and went to jail and he's already 70.

When each of the auto giants flew corporate jets into Reagan International to ask for a federal bailout, GM CEO Rick Wagoner became someone to hate--but it's hard to really, really hate anyone whose primary residence is Detroit. I say this with all sincerity. (And now I suspect Rick is just another unemployed Michigan guy looking to scalp some Final Four private box seats).

Over the last few weeks, anyone associated with AIG has been feeling the hot, sticky breath of a planet full of angry, broke people--but at the end of the day, these are insurance people. The optics suck.

It would have been nice if we could have pinned it on Dick Cheney, but he's gone hunting.

No one quite worked out as a bad guy--until Lula met Gordon.

Lula is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil. Just the other day he met with Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of England, and this is what he said.

"This crisis was caused by no black man or woman or by no indigenous person or by no poor person," Lula said after talks with the prime minister in Brasilia to discuss next week's G20 summit in London, (according to a Guardian article by Nicolas Watt).

"This crisis was fostered and boosted by irrational behaviour of some people that are white, blue-eyed. Before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, and they have demonstrated they know nothing about economics."

Challenged about his claims, Lula responded: "I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker."

Finally, the credit crisis has a face, and a gender. It is, to be blunt, white guys.

As a white guy myself, whose book The White Guy: A Field Guide comes out in the U.S. May 1, my reaction to Lula's comments can probably be summed up in a single word.


Now this is a broad, ultimately superficial verdict based on the lowest-common denominator factors one can judge a person by--their race and gender. (All things I am sure critics of my book will enjoy pointing out to readers).

However you want to parse the facts, there is an essential truth to what Lula says: this crisis was created by white people--the same white people who spent decades telling everyone else how to manage the economies of their (broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt) countries, no matter what the human or political cost.

Who could have forseen the delicious irony that the single most broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt country of them all is the not-so-good, old, U.S.A?

Besides, it will help when Oliver Stone decides to film his version of The Credit Crisis: he can cast a real A-Lister to play the bad guy. (Anthony Hopkins as Greenspan? Frank Langella as Fuld? Leonardo DiCaprio as Wall Street?)

Memo to the banking industry: next time you're up on Capitol Hill, testifying to save your annual seven and eight figure bonuses, spare us the garbage about how those bonuses are necessary to attract the best and brightest.

What you really mean is best-(connected) and whitest.

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