Friday, May 15, 2009

Commodes On Legs

Harvard Business School celebrated its 100th birthday last October. What, you weren’t invited? The Dean of that fine institution, Jay Light, gave a speech in which he touched on the current economic crisis. Have a look:

“We all failed to understand how much [the financial system] had changed in the past 15 years or so, and how fragile it might be because of increased leverage, decreased transparency and decreased liquidity: three of the crucial things in the world of financial markets. We all failed to understand how that fragility could evidence itself in a frozen short-term credit system, something that hadn’t really happened since 1907. We also probably overestimated the ability of the political process to deal with the realities of what could happen if real trouble developed.

What we have witnessed is a stunning and sobering failure of financial safeguards, of financial markets, of financial institutions and mostly of leadership at many levels. We will leave the talk of fixing the blame to others. That is not very interesting. But we must be involved in fact in fixing the problem.”

There you have it — the concentrated worldview of our elites, offered up in a neat little package and delivered with admirable succinctness. We screwed up; we failed; we overestimated this; we underestimated that; But we must be the ones to be called upon to fix the problem; and let’s not cast blame, that’s so boring (but notice how he takes a swipe at the ability of the “political process to deal with the realities of what could happen if real trouble developed.”

Remember, that’s the institution that produced George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John Thain — the guy that drove Merrill Lynch into the ground while buying a $2500 dollar paper machier garbage can for his office bathroom and spending $35,000 for something called a “commode on legs,” which was a desk used to store chamber pots before the invention of indoor plumbing (everyone who’s anyone has one these days) That institution bears the same relation to the current recession that the Nazi Party bore to World War Two, or that pig shit does to Swine Flu. If it weren’t for Harvard Business School, there’s a chance that none of us would have ever heard of mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps, or “commodes on legs,” and we’d still be dwelling in Eden this very moment. Yet here is its acting chief, pretending that this gigantic mess is some causeless act of God, unforeseen and unforeseeable, the kind of thing that hasn’t happened ’round here since 1907, don’t ya know, instead of the predictable result of calculated and deliberate human action, the kind taught and encouraged at his own school.

What we see here is a ‘stunning and sobering’ glimpse into the mentality of an entrenched aristocracy, the kind that does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with the perfect self-assurance that no matter how badly it screws up, it will always be there. The United States of America is their private farm, and the rest of us are just pack mules, just their commodes on legs.

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