Sunday, September 28, 2008

Simple Truths

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four –

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more
-Rudyard Kipling

Too many people will look on the current financial crisis and see only the opportunity to pillory their political rivals. Government will be cast as the savior and the villain, and the same roles will be handed to free enterprise. In a world where government-chartered entities (I'm looking at you, Fannie and Freddie) and private banks were forced by law to make senseless loans that they subsequently packaged into securities (now there's an oxymoron that burns), separating the market from the government is both dizzying and unprofitable. A pox on both houses, as well as the recognition that they are both vital.

Copybooks were a device used in years past to teach children, where they would copy lines of text or facts that they were meant to learn and internalize. They might be as simple as methods for learning the ABC's (one I remember that made an impression on me was the entry for 'X' in a copybook: Xerxes did die, and so must I. No varnishing of the facts for the kiddies in the olden days...). They could be Latin or Greek maxims. The idea was that there were important lessons to learn, and you could learn them (along with penmanship, I guess) by copying them.

This is not the kind of educational milieu we live in today, and I'm not suggesting that we should go back to rote, drill, and copying. At least not altogether.

Still, like the Kipling fragment suggests, times of crises remind us that there are iron laws: 2+2=4, and anyone who says otherwise is not your friend, but a devil.

Anyone who suggests that it is a good idea to loan money to people who aren't likely to be able to pay it back- whether it is Barney Frank, with his bleeding heart outraged that poor people are not having their "credit needs" met, or some pin-striper from Bear Lehman CitiStanley rubbing his hands together thinking up ways to pass that trash as a legitimate place for grandma to put her life's savings- needs to review the copybooks.

There really are good and bad ideas that are simple enough to teach children. Prudence really is a virtue, and greed really is a vice. That the largest economy in the world could be brought to a near standstill by liberals and conservatives colluding to ignore simple truths is tragic, comic, and unforgivable.