Current Affairs Economics & Business Opinion

Banking on Bankruptcy

Washington: Why did the Washington Post downgrade its business section when a crime story is always a great read and the best crime stories of America are now on the business pages? Add this to the many things one cannot understand about American media.

Who would have thought that the first word might serve as the last word and the first word would be uttered by George Bush? Bush’s plaintive analysis of the Greatest Crisis in Human History was pithy: “If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down.” All right, not quite how Keynes or Galbraith might have put it, but elegance was not the issue when the Titanic hit the iceberg. One suspects Bush rather enjoyed the thought that the sucker might suck someone else down.

We tend to forget that “bank” is the first part of “bankruptcy”. Barack Obama’s problem however seems to be a bankruptcy of ideas. No one I spoke to — and among them were high officials of finance — is yet certain how the most powerful economy in the world turned into a cashless casino. Obama’s solution is to flood the casino with money so that the game does not suddenly stop. How much money? A trillion dollars, and more to come. What happens when the dollar starts to slip to the value of printing ink? China, which has invested heavily in dollars, is getting edgy. Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman is not impressed by Barackonomics. He writes that Obama is squandering his political capital by replicating a solution even Bush abandoned: cash for trash. The Titanic might leave the dollar on thin ice.

Ordinary eyes see clearly what expert vision misses. There is rage on the avenues of America. The working class, increasingly bereft of work, was moving in busloads for a few days in search of bankers who had compounded their irresponsibility with the sin of drawing bonuses from dole. The pitchfork, once a weapon aimed at witches, is the symbol of anger. Ed Rollins, a Republican pundit who is a TV regular, reported the public mood succinctly: “They think it’s all occurring because of the greedy bastards on Wall Street and inept officials.”

Inept? Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s chief of staff was a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. Does that say something?

Citigroup boss Vikram Pandit has a nickname: Pandit the Bandit. He has just begun renovating his offices, at a cost of $10 million. He will get a sub-zero refrigerator as opposed, one presumes, to the above-zero machines available in the country of his origin. He will also get “premium millwork”. No one knows what this means, but I can see Indian chief executives calling up their interior decorators.

Add a new word to your conversation. Hyperopia. Fear is making people look so far ahead that they cannot enjoy the present.

Why are American TV anchors so fond of redundancy? Why have they begun to say, particularly on CNN, “take a listen” when “listen” is perfectly serviceable? Is “take” more virile? The only explanation is that TV anchors are so in love with their voices that they will not give up a chance to squeeze an extra three seconds.

Bankers are not the only fatcats. John Clay of the World Wildlife Fund informs us that the American cat eats more fish each year than the African human being. On top of this the cat eats chicken and beef. Will fatcats be affected by the fact that the American economy has shrunk by 6.3%?

A cartoon by Mike Luckovich in Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes gallows humour to the gallows. A banker, with a grin and a bonus bag, is standing outside a cave in Afghanistan. An irate Osama berates him: “Find your own cave…”

Barack Obama has earned, so far, $8,605,429 from book royalties. That’s fair reward for the journey to the White House from a madrasa in Indonesia. Tom Friedman has sold 12 million copies of his flat earth thesis without ever wanting to become President. On purely partisan grounds, including professional kinship and personal friendship, I declare Tom the winner of the royalties contest.

Both are getting ideological competition from a surprising source: John O’Hara. The Grapes of Wrath, a huge indictment of materialism published in the 1930s is the sleeper success of publishing. In 1959 O’Hara wrote to his friend Adlai Stevenson, the great icon of liberals, “If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”

Obama got half a million dollars for the children’s rights of his memoirs. But what do children really read? The boy in the lift of my Washington hotel was not old enough to be in double digits. I was impressed: he had a book in his hands. I asked what he was reading. “A kind of funny book.” Title? “Five People Who Died During Sex”. Wasn’t he a bit young for such intellectual stimulation? “Oh,” he replied unfazed, “it’s about a lot of things… Paranoid rulers…” His floor came and he went off. If he understood the meaning of paranoia, sex should be no problem.

About the author

M J Akbar

M.J. Akbar, Chairman and Director of Publications, Covert magazine, is a leading Indian journalist and author. He is founder and former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. After successfully launching and establishing a weekly news magazine, Sunday, and a daily newspaper, The Telegraph, in the '70s and '80s, he briefly interrupted his career in journalism to enter politics in November 1989 as an elected representative in Parliament. He returned to writing and editing in 1993. His last book 'Blood Brothers', in the words of Khuswant Singh, "could be a textbook on how to write, mix fact, fiction and history. It is beautifully written; it deserves to be in Category A1." Commercially speaking M.J. Akbar is that tangible asset without whom the balance sheet of Indian Journalism will never tally!

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *