Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Light in the Financial Darkness

Yeats keeps coming to mind lately:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

ere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

That’s certainly what it felt like last week, with the financial system tottering on the brink of collapse, Wall Street giants toppling like dominoes and doomsayers turning out to be soothsayers.

Let’s face it: We’re living in a precarious age, with America’s two great instruments of national power, money-making and war-making, both blunted in the recent crisis and the blundering adventures in Mesopotamia.

The prominent NYU economist Nouriel Roubini showed up on “Charlie Rose” last Monday to declare, “We’re still maybe in the second or third inning of a nine-inning game of a financial and economic crisis.” In short, it’s just the beginning, and more financial institutions might end up “belly up.”

With shares of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley seesawing on Tuesday, many wondered aloud whether they would follow Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch. The New York Times quoted one analyst: “It’s still a little surreal talking about Goldman like that.”

Indeed, the current situation seems quite surreal for seniors starting their job searches, with on-campus recruiting sessions giving way to late-night brooding over beers about the future.

Apparently, we’re even wearing the country’s dismal mood on our backs. According to New York Times photographer Bill Cunnigham, men’s fashion has entered a “sobering period” marked by the “thin man.” The new trend on the streets is the emaciated and feminized male, with jeans that look like leggings, skinny neckties and skin-tight cardigans. Gone is the Wall Street bravado of the full Windsor knot and the three-piece power suit.

But enough with the gloom – now there’s the blame-game to play. People are already pointing fingers at Alan Greenspan for thinking all that credit risk was going to take care of itself. Others blame unexpired Bush tax cuts or a lack of regulation on the financial system. Senator Barack Obama blames the Republican economic philosophy, and Senator John McCain blames the cardinal sin of greed.

ore importantly, however, this all raises the question of what kind of leadership we need in these turbulent times. Bob Woodward has just released the fourth and final installment of his “Bush at War” series: “The War Within.” In the volume, Woodward offers his personal assessment of George W. Bush’s leadership after unprecedented access to the president over the last seven years.

Woodward’s verdict? “A president must be able to get a clear-eyed, unbiased assessment of the war. The president must lead. For years, time and again, President Bush has displayed impatience, bravado and unsettling personal certainty about his decisions. The result has too often been impulsiveness and carelessness, and, perhaps most troubling, a delayed reaction to realities and advice that run counter to his gut.”

What’s even more disturbing is just how the president’s straying instincts went unchecked by those around him who should have known better. Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, turned out to be a national security cheerleader, describing their relationship thus: “If I feel it, he feels it. If he feels it, I feel it.” And so it took the administration six unhurried months to feel its way toward the surge of U.S. troops after it realized the strategy in Iraq wasn’t working.

But if the Bush years reveal the danger of electing a shallow thinker with little expert supervision, then the financial crisis shows how even the best and the brightest of our professional ruling class didn’t see the turmoil ahead, in spite of all their brainpower and pedigree.

That leads us back to our current predicament: Where do we go now if both feeling and thinking have led us to so much trouble? In November, do we choose another gut-thinker or the guy with little experience? Joe Biden himself said last year, “The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.”

aybe it does. One of the things pioneered in investment banking is the idea that you recruit the brightest and most coachable talent from the nation’s top schools, give them training from the best in the business and put them to relentless work. Obama makes it a point to say he turned that system down after college. He’s obviously reconsidered, but will it work now?

Yeats comes creeping in again:

“Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”

Even in gloomy times we have hope.

Lukasz Swiderski is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at UNFOREIGN AFFAIRS appears every other Tuesday.

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