I have tried to read some offbeat commentary, all laying the blame for the crisis at different feet, and was trying to create a simple synthesis for my readers of What Happened. It was developing into a quite remarkable theory of everything, but halfway through I stepped back. "This is not your strength, Pooh" said one side of my brain. "You're right Piglet. It isn't." said the other. "Asking the very smart people like Owl and Rabbit, and even Christopher Robin, has never solved a financial crisis."
The Assistant Village Idiot looks for the obvious, as that is likely being overlooked.
1. We are now talking about trillions of dollars very offhandedly. None of us had a good grasp of what a million somethings is. Small government people have complained for decades that we don't really grasp what a billion is, and thus have allowed spending to run amok. We think of a billion as sort of a fat million, so that when politicians switch from talking about $90M to $1.2B, we sort of think it might be a little less. I have read a few references to trillions of dollars over the last year or two - all in connection with the US government - but we now have an explosion of them. You can read about $5-6 trillion or $25.2 trillion all over the place in the last week. We haven't the faintest idea what we are talking about. We think of a trillion as a fat billion, and a billion is just a fat million, so these new numbers just seem like really really fat millions. Which we couldn't conceptualize anyway, being wired to understand no more than a hundred or so somethings. After that, we only understand numbers comparatively, able to say "that pile is bigger."
2. If George Bush were trying to reward his Wall Street pals, he would have done something else. Newt Gingrich has a four-point plan that would make them squirm with glee. It would also solve things, I'll bet. Because it doesn't punish rich people, it is politically impossible. Instead, Bush has the idea that the government can't possibly do any worse than these buffleheads, and so should take over. I have no opinion as to whether the government will do worse. I am sure it can do worse.
3. As soon as a plan was developing, Democrats had other things they wanted to tack onto it. Since you're spending 700 billion anyway, they said why not package it in ways that make us look good and you look bad? The idea of the bailout, right or wrong, is to prevent a depression - like, a real one, not the crap you keep whining about - and keep unemployment from going over 10%. It's more for the little guy already, so that there are jobs and places to put your retirement money. No matter. The Democrats are painting it as money going to rich people, and they want to divert it to attractive but useless alternatives.
4. McCain's solution to this is that he's going to appoint a guy to oversee it. He has made some suggestions, including an honest (but not especially competent) Democrat. Obama's solution is also to appoint a guy to oversee things. He won't say who, but his main economic advisors are people who got us into this mess. Yet it will be a Smart Guy, you can count on that. On this score, George Bush wins the adulthood award, even if he's dead wrong. McCain wins a college sophomore tag, and Obama's thinking parallels a middle-school work group planning a diorama and skit.
5. No one has said a word about affirmative action. With twenty different theories about whose fault this is, all theories point to white guys, with a few yuppie black and hispanic guys thrown in. Yet no one is clamoring for a woman to be one of the ones to figure this out. Why not? Isn't it a woman's turn to preside over disaster? Isn't it your turn, ladies? I think everyone looks bad here. Even liberals reveal that in a crisis they trust a serious-looking male, preferably with silver or gray hair. I hear no women's groups complaining at the moment. They reveal their true selves in a crisis. And yet, and yet, this is the time when their argument is strongest. White males occupy almost all the possible seats of blame. What better to time to use the argument "Give me a turn, Jimmy! You've tried six times and haven't hit a thing!"
5A. I don't see Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton insisting that we have Black Solutions to this. They are lying in wait for the truly delightful morsels that will drop from this table. Screw those urban black males that don't have jobs. We'll lie to them later. Right now it's dinner time.