December 5, 2011
Weekend Reading: On Politics, Poetry, and Finances
I had the opportunity to spend some time on a plane with Sunday's New York Times Magazine this weekend. It was a particularly good read. Here are some highlights that have some applicability to business and business law:
Mitt Romney’s campaign has decided upon a rather novel approach to winning the presidency. It has taken a smart and highly qualified but largely colorless candidate and made him exquisitely one-dimensional: All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero.
The excessive love of individual liberty that debases our national politics? It found its original poet in Ralph Waldo [Emerson]. . . .
The larger problem with [“Self-Reliance”], and its more lasting legacy as a cornerstone of the American identity, has been Emerson’s tacit endorsement of a radically self-centered worldview. It’s a lot like the Ptolemaic model of the planets that preceded Copernicus; the sun, the moon and the stars revolve around our portable reclining chairs, and whatever contradicts our right to harbor misconceptions — whether it be Birtherism, climate-science denial or the conviction that Trader Joe’s sells good food — is the prattle of the unenlightened majority and can be dismissed out of hand.
“A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition,” Emerson advises, “as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.” If this isn’t the official motto of the 112th Congress of the United States, well, it should be. The gridlock, grandstanding, rule manipulating and inability to compromise aren’t symptoms of national decline. We’re simply coming into our own as Emerson’s republic.
[T]he bottom line is simple: Europe’s problems are a lot like ours, only worse. Like Wall Street, Germany is where the money is. Italy, like California, has let bad governance squander great natural resources. Greece is like a much older version of Mississippi — forever poor and living a bit too much off its richer neighbors. Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia are like the heartland states that learned the hard way how entwined so-called Main Street is with Wall Street. Now remember that these countries share neither a government nor a language. Nor a realistic bailout plan, either.
This article on the Euro also notes that Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next (a European retailer) is offering a £250,000 prize to anyone who can "answer the question of how to manage the orderly exit of one or more member states from the European Monetary Union." The PDF announcement is here. Why does this matter? As the Times Magazine article explains:
Q: Will the euro survive?
It’s a dangerous question to ask out loud. Suppose a credible rumor spread throughout Greece that, rather than accept the harsh terms of another bailout package, the government was plotting to revert to the drachma. Fearing the devaluation of their savings, Greeks would move their money somewhere safer, like a German bank. The Greek banking system would then, in all likelihood, implode.
But Greece’s economy is too small for an isolated collapse to cause any significant damage throughout the continent. (Even a collapse confined to Greece, Ireland and Portugal couldn’t take down Europe.) So the concern about a run on the Greek banking system is largely about whether a panic might spread to Spain or — worse — Italy, which could topple Europe’s financial system.
If you have any ideas on how to orchestrate a reasonably smooth exit of one or more countries from the European Monetary Union, you could line your pockets with some British currency, while stabilizing European markets. That'd be a good day's work.
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