Friday, September 26, 2008
I'm not saying this to show off, but I've read "War and Peace" and I loved it. I've also read a little of Isaiah Berlin, who famously commented on Tolstoy. The idea is this: great leaders think they shape events, but in truth, history is out of their hands. It is the heroics, or lack thereof, of individual soldiers acting in concert with their comrades, combined with the weather and other unforseeable circumstances, and let's not forget luck, that determines troop movements, the delivery of dispatches, skirmishes that grow into battles, wars, and the fate of empires.
In our present crisis, which threatens to end America's economic pre-eminence, I keep wondering what happened to the whistle blowers. I want to hear from the loan officer at a branch of Washington Mutual who told her supervisor that Joe Shmo would never be able to repay the loan they were floating him, only to be told to shut up because their region was under pressure to write more mortgages, and if Mr. Shmo defaults, it's not their concern since that's handled by a different department, and besides, in the roaring real estate market, they'd all be shmos not to ride the crest and the devil take the hindmost. I'll bet she left WaMu thinking she'd hit the glass ceiling, only to realize now that she'd just failed to be a team player among lemmings.
And the loans they made! Zero down payment; no proof of income required; history of bankruptcies not considered; complicit home inspectors and appraisers never challenged. People got loans for 110% of the purchase price, never made a single mortgage payment, defaulted, and then walked away with the extra 10% free and clear--truly a license to steal.
And why? I think Count Tolstoy could have explained it very clearly.