July 16, 2009
Thinking over yesterday’s reasoned argument ranty screed about America’s masculine sensibilities and our notions of the heroic, I was reminded of an excellent Foreign Policy article by Riehan Salam about the very particular place men play in this recession, both as its cause and its victims. He makes an interesting argument, though I hesitate to draw quite the conclusions as he does… Big historical events are always more complex than the quantities of testosterone could reveal. And yet:
For several years now it has been an established fact that, as behavioral finance economists Brad Barber and Terrance Odean memorably demonstrated in 2001, of all the factors that might correlate with overconfident investment in financial markets—age, marital status, and the like—the most obvious culprit was having a Y chromosome. And now it turns out that not only did the macho men of the heavily male-dominated global finance sector create the conditions for global economic collapse, but they were aided and abetted by their mostly male counterparts in government whose policies, whether consciously or not, acted to artificially prop up macho.
Its worth your time to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already. It was pointed out in the comments section to yesterday’s post that there’s a world of difference between stock brokers and pilots, which I think goes without saying. Excepting Glenn Beck-inspired lynch mobs, the level of danger in securities trading is quite low. Yet to hear it told, many in the financial world were under the belief that their work should have carried a comparable level of cachet… Or, at a bare minimum, that the levels of ballsiness required to do investment banking elevated it above the tedium that that profession is legendary for. Think about Paulson, or Cassano, or Cohen, or any of the iconic figures to emerge from the financial crisis: the thing that is striking about all of them is (a) just how heroic/cutthroat/testosterific they saw their work and (b) how their taste for “innovative” financial products amplified that self-image well beyond its proper constraints. While the traits singled out in (a) are going to be operative at the top of any field as a matter of necessity, they rarely acquire the heroic undertones they did in the run-up to the collapse, and its that bubble-born mentality Domenach is praising that, at least so far as it relates to business, should probably be confined to the ash-heap. (And, if Salam is right, already has been.)
July 15, 2009
I apologize for the light posting over the last couple days… Job search stuff occasionally winds up being amazingly time consuming, especially when it seems to be productive. Unfortunately it looks like this most recent glimmer of opportunity was for nought and so I’m back to hoop jumping for at least a few more weeks. And of course, dear readers, to blogging.
Which brings me to this essay, which Peter Lawler recommends and I am puzzled by. So far as I can tell, its central argument is that America is aging and finding less space for the kind of expansive, manly excess that characterized the world of The Right Stuff. Instead we are getting older, finding that government dependency is easy, and sopping at the consumer trough. All of this with nary a mention of women’s exclusion, the rampant alcoholism, the miserable children, the suicidal closeted homosexuals. (Or heaven forbid, the south.) What really mattered about that era was that a miniscule portion of the population went really fucking fast and could have killed themselves doing so, and they were real men for doing so.
But setting aside the historical blindness necessary to write this kind of essay, maybe the most bizarre part of Domenach’s thinking is the fact that the world he mourns did exist less than two years ago, on Wall Street, among bankers whose belief in their testicular infallibility drove the economy off a cliff. And its their failed heroics now forcing the rest of us, unwillingly I might add, to rediscover the values of dependence, whose gifts include such unmanly traits as gratitude and humility. But this could only be a signal of decline, goes Domenech’s thinking, because we weren’t being manly anymore, and dammit, manliness built ‘merica.
There’s a metaphor involving heroin withdrawl here but somehow I think my point has been made. Good riddance in any case.
Edit: As if on cue, Will finds the best Craigslist ad ever.