Monday, September 15th, 2008
symptomatic of the age

It is an observation that will be better explored on another day, but I find that despite its flashing graphics, swoosh sounds, and host hyperbole and histrionics, I find CNBC pretty boring most of the time.  So, why do I have it on today?

Perhaps it is the same basic instinct that attracts onlookers to a car crash, or maybe it’s just my interest in collecting perspective for that Great American Market Novel that I keep imagining.  Another possibility is that I am an indicator of sorts and that my attention is yet another piece of evidence that we are finally nearing the end of this fearful period.

The title of this posting comes from a CNBC interview this morning with John GutfreundCNBC | While Gutfreund says that he is “not unduly perturbed” by the events of late, he also indicates that he could not have imagined them., he of Salomon Brothers and Liar’s PokerMichael Lewis’ 1990 chronicle of his time on Wall Street is a classic, required reading for anyone interested in the investment business. fame.  It was a bit odd to hear him blame the “hubris” of those who have presided over this latest debacle, since that is precisely what he was accused of being blinded by during an earlier mess.

He called today’s events, including the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the apparent sale of Merrill Lynch, and the tremendous uncertainty about the future of AIG,  the type of collapse that is “symptomatic of the age.”  Building for twenty-five years, that age at its culmination featured lots of institutional speculation and risk management in name only.the research puzzle | I wrote earlier on some of this in “wall street runs this world.”

Despite the brevity of the interview, Gutfreund touched on many of the elements that fed the great age.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was “too permissive . . . for a long time.”  Deregulation did its part too, since “people without rules just get in deep trouble.”  The managers of Lehman, in particular, were “unduly optimistic about their potential and their opportunities.”  And, signaling that maybe we aren’t done with all of this, he questioned the wisdom of Bank of America’s acquisitive nature, supporting its willingness to buy troubled properties now in the hope of having dominant market share in the future, with a simple question:  “Who can protect them from their greed?”

It is the question of the day, of course, but was really the question of the age.  It was asked for years by non-believers, who were scoffed at and dismissed for their views, including — and perhaps especially — during the rare times they had a forum on the very network that now reports the truth of it all and its consequences.