Oh Good Grief, Don't Blame The Media For This
Last week Nick hated on the media for being too alarmist in its coverage of the collapse of Wall Street; Ryan pointed out this morning that the problem is that they weren't alarmist enough. So we ran the numbers: with some blips the media has been dropping the R-bomb as well as the D-bomb pretty steadily since the CDO market first started dropping off, with a dramatic uptick around the Bear Stearns bailout. Could the problem be that no one fucking listens to the media? And that is a damn shame, because despite the necessary myopia with which it covers a beast whose single most deleterious attribute is its inherent myopia it will occasionally offer up such gems as:
Without memory, there is no debt. Put another way: Without story, there is no debt. The story of debt reached a historic moment this week. An outsized bubble of interlocking debt burst, leading to the downfalls of prominent companies. Loans by and to the government, financial institutions and consumers collided on an epic scale. Still, the idea of what we owe one another is an ancient theme, and this is just the latest chapter in a long cultural history. A story is a string of actions occurring over time — one damn thing after another, as we glibly say in creative writing classes — and debt happens as a result of actions occurring over time. Therefore, any debt involves a plot line: how you got into debt, what you did, said and thought while you were in there, and then — depending on whether the ending is to be happy or sad — how you got out of debt, or else how you got further and further into it until you became overwhelmed by it, and sank from view. … In our minds — as reflected in our language — debt is a mental or spiritual non-place, like the Hell described by Christopher Marlowe's Mephistopheles when Faust asks him why he's not in Hell but right there in the same room as Faust. "Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it," says Mephistopheles. He carries Hell around with him like a private climate: He's in it and it's in him. Substitute "debt" and you can see that, in the way we talk about it, debt is the same kind of placeless place. "Why, this is Debt, nor am I out of it," the beleaguered debtor might similarly declaim. Which makes the whole idea of debt — especially massive and hopeless debt — sound brave and noble and interesting rather than merely squalid, and gives it a larger-than-life tragic air. Could it be that some people get into debt because, like speeding on a motorbike, it adds an adrenalin hit to their otherwise humdrum lives?
Yeah, so Margaret Atwood ain't exactly Erin Burnett. But the point is that anyone who has been watching CNBC over the past few years with the basic understanding that leverage = debt and finance conquered America by systematically obscuring and exploiting the gap between the use value and the exchange value of everything could tell you that Erin Burnett's job is to tell you not that the debts will eventually all come due, but when the aggregate fear will reach the point that we're forced to actually pay attention to the "stories" — and to history — again.