I Have a Little List

Time magazine has again demonstrated its irrelevance in the Internet age with a fatuous feature called “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.”

The failure here is two-fold: One, the editors’ choices of who’s to blame, and two, the reader poll ranking those choices.

Let’s start with who’s on the little list – or more to the point, who’s not. Time did an OK job of unearthing lesser-known names who definitely bear some culpability in the disaster – such as AIG’s Joe Cassano, who did much to unleash the nightmare of credit-default swaps.

But how can anyone take this list seriously when it doesn’t include Ben Bernanke? Yes, Greenspan (who did make the list) laid the foundation, but Bernanke built on it with abandon. Perhaps it’s because the intelligentsia regards him a genuine scholar on monetary matters – you know, historian of the Great Depression and all that. A far more respectable background than Greenspan, who hung out with Randians and extolled the virtues of the gold standard.

Where’s Tim Geithner, the guy whose fingerprints were on every boneheaded decision of 2008, from Bear Stearns to Lehman and beyond?

And where’s Robert Rubin? What, is there some numerical limit of Goldman Sachs guys the editors arbitrarily applied to the list? Hank Paulson’s on there, so Rubin can’t be? Seems like Time lays a lot Rubin’s faux-deregulatory handiwork on the shoulders of Bill Clinton, which I daresay might be a bit unfair. Clinton revealed his navet on such matters when he remarked early in his first term, “You mean to tell me that the success of the economic program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of f*$(#@g bond traders?”

Oh, and then there’s Time’s inclusion of “The American Consumer.” Oh, that was clever, alright. I bet the editors were congratulating themselves over the brilliance of that one – “Gee, this is almost as good as choosing ‘You’ as Person of the Year a while back!” But this too is too harsh – consumers were merely taking their cues from the politicians and central bankers driving the ship.

Even worse than Time’s 25 choices are the rankings furnished by its readers. I guess letting the readers vote is Time’s idea of Web 2.0. But the sheer folly of this is revealed when the number-one choice as ranked by the people who drove by the website, the premier villain of the financial calamity that’s befallen us is… drum roll, please… Phil Gramm.

Phil Gramm?!? Yes, his name was the first on the faux-deregulation legislation that repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999, and he’s worthy of inclusion on the list. But I suspect the reason he ranks so high is one that Time doesn’t even mention in its write-up: His Kudlowesque comment last year, while on UBS’s payroll and consulting the McCain campaign, that the recession is a mere figment of the collective imagination. Must’ve stuck in the craw of a lot of political junkies.

And if we’re going to beat up on former members of Congress, shouldn’t we beat up on a couple of others who are still around, like Barney Frank or Chris Dodd?

But whatever. Time’s payroll and page count shrinks as the economy and the Internet take their toll. Let us celebrate.

February 19, 2009