Frank Rich goes after the “go-go” ethos that has been deeply etched in our elite institutions and advanced by the cultural elite – regardless of Party – over the past twenty-five years.  It is especially noteworthy when a man of the Left so fiercely criticizes his own clan.  With growing dissidence over the current state of affairs on both the less-fringe Left and Right (I think, at least on this matter, the Left columnist Rich and the Right columnist Douthat have a good deal in common), current discontent combined with deep anxiety and anger across the land has the makings of a change in the Zeitgeist.

The idea of investing in the real economy — the one that might create jobs for Americans — remains outré in this culture. Credit to small businesses remains tight. The holy capitalist grail is still the speculative buying and selling of companies and the concoction of ever more esoteric financial “instruments.” The tragic tale of Simmons Bedding recently told in The Times is a role model. This successful 133-year-old manufacturing enterprise was flipped seven times in two decades by private equity firms. Investors made more than $750 million in profits even as the pile-up of debt pushed Simmons into bankruptcy, costing a quarter of its loyal workers their jobs so far.

Most leaders in America are against this kind of ethos in principle. Last month the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, contributed a stirring essay to The Timesregretting that educational institutions did not make stronger efforts to assert the fundamental values of pure intellectual inquiry while “the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism.” She rued the rise of business as the most popular undergraduate major, an implicit reference to the go-go atmosphere during the reign of her predecessor, Lawrence Summers, now President Obama’s chief economic adviser.

What went unsaid, of course, is that some of Harvard’s most prominent alumni of the pre-Faust era — Summers, Blankfein, Robert Rubin et al. — were major players during the last two bubbles. As coincidence would have it, the same edition of The Times that published Faust’s essay also included an article about how Harvard was scrounging for bucks by licensing a line of overpriced preppy clothing under the brand Harvard Yard. This sop to excessive materialism will be a scant recompense for the $11 billion Harvard’s endowment managers lost in their own bad gamble on interest-rate swaps.

Obama has also passed through Harvard. (Disclosure: so did I.) He too has consistently said all the right things about the “money culture” of “quick kills and bloated bonuses,” of “reckless behavior and unchecked excess.” But the air of entitlement that continues to waft from his administration sends another message.

In particular, the tone-deaf Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, never ceases to amaze. His daily calendars reveal that most of his contacts with the financial sector in the first seven months of 2009 were limited to the trinity of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan. And last week Bloomberg News reported that his inner circle of “counselors” — key advisers who, conveniently enough, do not require Senate confirmation — are largely drawn from the same club. It’s hard to see how any public official can challenge a culture that he is marinating in, night and day.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. I’d like to see Summers and Geithner required to wear go-go boots. And short skirts too. That would make it easier on the randy hands they readily give groping privileges to.

    It’s this “real economy” Rich mentions that is ultimately going to bring Left and Right to the same leanly-trimmed table. The talk will be of limits and localism and, as JHK says, a world made by hand.

  2. If that dirt-ball Geithner is crawling in bed with JP Morgan it sure isn’t evident in my hollowed out investments.

  3. Just further confirmation of what we already have long known. That both the “left” and the “right” are owned by Wall Street.

    We live in a corporatist state. Unfortunately, the bulk of our populace believes the shadow puppetry of politics they see on TV is the real world, and not just theater. Meanwhile the same moneyed interests continue to run the show, gorging themselves in Bacchanalian fashion, and helping themselves to the till whenever they come up short on pocket change after a bender.

    FPR used to inspire me, but lately it’s depressing the hell out of me. Of course, truth will do that to a fella. I look forward to peak oil, when I can move to that shack in the woods and make my own whiskey without the gummint botherin’ me.

  4. Today’s Times includes a front page article on a $34k a plate fundraiser for The Prince of Spare Change tonight in Gotham and while it asserts that many Wall Street folk are a little chary of going…it aint because of their hurt feelings caused by chastening remarks from the Prince of Spare Change. Nah, its because they don’t want to go and “aggravate public perception”.

    Meanwhile though, there is good news on the horizon for Thomas G. because it was revealed that the flummoxed real banks…as opposed to the Banks in Name Only Which Shall Remain Nameless For Fear of Importunate Perceptions …have found a money-making venture to offset their accumulating losses in credit cards and real estate mortgages. They are selling dollars and buying oil and gold. I do hope they are chewing bubblegum.

    Thomas G. Chin up…we have entered an era which shall provide fertile material for epic satire…as long as the public don’t graduate from the ijits lab of the current U. of Wisconsin Pres.

  5. D.W.,

    Thanks . You really know how to cheer a guy up. Still, if you don’t see me around these boards for a while you’ll know that I have cashed out the chips and invested in a pot still and a cabin in the Northwoods. Kinda doubt they have intertube access where I’m heading, which might help keep me hid from Cheeks’ Gummint folks while I busy makin’ shine.

    Thomas G.

  6. Hey! What’s with all the doom and gloom at least we now know the market as a stable self-regulating entity is fiction! Took a while and a lot of pink slips but we got there! Holy Smoke!

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