Of all the images I looked at yesterday concerning the financial crisis, I found this one — by AP’s fine photographer Mary Altaffer — to be the most arresting. These pedestrians are looking up at the (cool and sexy) headquarters of Lehman Brothers as news breaks of its bankruptcy. (You can click open and look at the representative shots of the building, and its IMAX-like display, at bottom. The last shot is from this past 9/11.)
The picture is only more fitting, however, accompanied by a comment that was posted in response to a post at the NYT “Deal Book” blog yesterday (Shock and Anger From Lehman’s Employees – link.) The comment is in response to the plight of suddenly uncompensated and unemployed Lehman Brothers workers who might even be asked to return their Blackberries. In the empathic post, Lehman workers wonder how this could have happened.
How did it happen?
The real question is how did these smart-alecky Ivy League MBA whiz kids destroy a 158 year old firm that survived the Civil War, the depression of the ’90s (1890s for historical ignoramuses), the panic of 1907 and the Great Depression?
And the worker bees who gravitated there out of school are no better than the upper echelon. They were at a lower level but wanted to be just like those at the top. They are all cut from the same cloth.
By thinking themselves far far cleverer and more knowledgeable than those who had gone before so that they actually believed their own BS about a ‘new financial paradigm.’ They are so self-important and entrenched in the belief that they are smarter than anyone else in history that they would not have taken financial advice from John Pierpoint Morgan if he came back from the grave. They would have called him ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘passe’ and ‘out of touch’.
By thinking themselves oh-so-innovative because they could push buttons on a computer and come up with loopy theories and ridiculous ‘models’. If they had gone out and ask the farmer in the field or the plumber if the nutty lending practices of option-ARMs, NINJA etc made sense, the farmer and the plumber would have called them crazy as sooner or later someone would get stuck with a bill for the losses. The farmer on his tractor or the plumber had more sense about handling money than these self-important idiots who thought themselves so brilliant playing with their theories as if the theories were reality.
By buying into all that ‘free market’ garbage that idolizes ‘risk-taking’ and despises garden-variety caution and common sense and insists on unchecked growth at all costs. The only things that growths constantly and without end is cancer and then it kills the organism it inhabits.
By being greedy and thinking they had to have more and more and more in profits. They flaunt their greed. They value money above all. They assign values to others based upon their income and net worth. I seriously doubt that the one wailing about his Blackberry really chooses as his friends people who are social workers, daycare teachers or others unlikely to ever afford the 2nd and 3rd homes or get 6 or 7 figure incomes.
How did it happen?
Take a good long look in the mirror.
Then go out and get a job doing something that actually produces things. I hear the oil and gas fields out west need welders and workers.
(image 1 : Mary Altaffer. Sept. 15, 2008. New York. image 2: Reuters. New York, June 4, 2008. image 3 &4 : Reuters. New York January 30, 2008. image 5: Reuters. September 15, 2008. )