Moe Tkacik in The Baffler
If you’re snowed in this weekend, I can highly recommend Moe Tkacik’s monster essay reviewing most of the foremost recent crisis books. It’s 8,000 words long, but it’s worth it: Moe put a lot of effort and feeling into this piece, and it shows. For instance, here she is on Gillian Tett, and her glorification of the people who invented the synthetic collateralized debt obligation:
Not content with her own seventy-odd uses of the word “innovation” and its variations over the course of 253 pages, Tett herself likens the team’s invention to “splitting the atom,” “cracking the DNA code”, “the banking equivalent of space travel” and the “financial equivalent of the Holy Grail.” Blythe Masters, a posh 25-yearold who would over the next few months take credit for inventing the credit default swap, would rave later that the concoction of sophisticated new “products” appealed to her not only because of her quantitative background, “but they are also so creative.” And finally: “I’ve known people who worked for the Manhattan Project, and for those of us on that trip there was that same kind of feeling at being present at the creation.”
And here she is on Neel Kashkari:
Former deputy Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari, when in high school, filled most of his senior yearbook page with a large photo of a Ferrari, superimposing a picture of himself and assorted heavy metal lyrics. Recognition of the disaster’s potential magnitude did not convert to concern, however; according to David Wessel’s book, In Fed We Trust, in early 2008 Kashkari jestingly likened it to the Iran hostage crisis that consumed the 1980 election year, advising colleagues that mortgages, like hostages, were a problem for the “next president.” (A slightly different account in Too Big To Fail has Kashkari reversing this stance, urging Paulson to start lobbying to use federal funds to bail out the mortgage market lest the history books accord Obama all the credit for “bringing home the hostages.” I’m not sure which story makes Kashkari look like a bigger douchebag.)
Tkacik’s review comes from The Baffler, a truly wonderful magazine which you should find and buy; the current issue’s trenchantly leftist take on the financial crisis provides a refreshingly fresh perspective on a subject which can too easily feel very tired. And it has 5,300 words on Thomas Kinkade, too! What’s not to love?