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Who’s Dumber? Ike’s Refugees or Wall Street’s?

by OSCAR GONZALEZ

I’m sure no irony is intended, but the corporate media keeps switching back and forth between the refugees of Hurricane Ike to the refugees of the Wall Street meltdown, but, of course, with different takes. For the hardy Galveston Islanders who refused evacuation orders even in the face of a storm the size of Texas, they get only scorn and ridicule piled higher even that the rubble that surrounds them. The Houston Chronicle reports how President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff chafed over ignored evacuation orders:

“As we continually said, every time there is a storm, when you stay behind in the face of a warning, not only do you jeopardize yourself but you put the first responders at risk as well,” Chertoff said.

Harsh, hectoring words. Justified, without a doubt, but let us apply the power of contrast to Bush’s more philosophic view regarding what is now being called The Mother of All Mondays:

“In the short run, adjustments in the financial markets can be painful both for the people concerned about their investments and for the employees of the affected firms. In the long run, I’m confident that our capital markets are flexible and resilient, and can deal with these adjustments.”

Ike was a big storm, but Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, et al have brought the entire nation, probably the world, to the precipice of economic doom. There will be a great deal of parsing out of possible triggers for the meltdown, laced with impenetrable jargon. “From the opening bill, the volume and volatility of leveraged liquidity on put options made The Street bet against the spread that earnings and yield will not outperform the market base.” Ok, I admit I just strung some of that jargon together, but the sentence could be spliced seamlessly so that a TV audience wouldn’t notice and a talking head wouldn’t mind.

But there are no recriminations from politicians. People are still hanging on Alan Greenspan’s every nebulous utterance, hoping to distill some perspective from this, the chief architect of the meltdown.

Maybe in a year or two if things get Great Depression bad, the mainstream will start lashing out at the Wall Streeters for being as dumb as a Texas governor (as Groucho said, “Time wounds all heels”), but I see no reason to wait, so I’ll make the argument that the Wall Streeters are dumber than the people who did not evacuate Galveston Island.

I’ve vacationed in Galveston, and I know its people are acutely aware of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and of the need to accommodate the whims of nature. They work in hotels, banks, restaurants, and lots of tourist traps. The service sector thrives, but I would safely bet few Galvestonians are weather meteorologists.

Wall Streeters buy up other people’s misfortunes and dump shares before the stink sets in. They diversify for safety, but prefer monopoly. They employ the most sophisticated algorithms to determine when things will spike or tank. They play to win and to crush competitors. They come from elite universities, trained in high finance and inscrutable statistics. Top of their classes, to the one. They hone their prognosticating skills. That is most of what they do. They anticipate, thrust, and parry.

Wall Streeters should have known of this financial armageddon and taken steps to prevent it. Heck, even the progressive press sounded the alarm for many years.

It is no coincidence that weather terminology, like gathering storm, looming clouds, tsunami, is used to the same effect both by the weather and stock market news. You wouldn’t know it from the news reports, but most of Galveston knew bad weather was approaching and heeded the evacuation orders. Wall Streeters stuck around until a security guard handed them a box and showed them the exit.

If Adam Smith’s invisible hand gives a thumbs up to the excesses of rich, spoiled number-crunchers, then shouldn’t Providence be given equal wiggle room with the good people of Galveston?

OSCAR GONZALEZ is a Texas attorney. He can be reached at: oscarg707@yahoo.com

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A D Hemming is a pseudonym this writer uses on a regular basis.

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