It’s hard to know how much of this is honest journalism and how much is the cynical kind, perpetrated by editors looking for buzz, so you can take all this with as much salt as you wish, but.
First, New York magazine:
The long-anticipated war of the world versus Wall Street has erupted, and we non–Wall Street New Yorkers are caught right in the line of fire. On the one hand, how can we not share the populist outrage over bankers’ squandering a decade’s worth of profits and still taking bonuses as they bag federal bailouts? Most Americans just read about these guys; we got shouldered aside at the bar by them, and watched their bonuses push real-estate prices beyond our reach. We have greater cause than anyone to loathe the bastards.
On the other hand, until recently, America’s losses were our gains. Those Wall Street bonuses, in part, went to cover taxes that kept our streets clean and safe. They underwrote charity and culture. They supported restaurants, shops, and galleries. They paid the wages of cabdrivers, maids, doormen, and hairdressers. All New Yorkers stand to lose a lot in the austerity plans being imposed upon Wall Street by Washington.
Hmm, yes, I guess that’s true. All New Yorkers will lose a lot if deprived of the rich crumbs that fell from Wall Street’s table. Regrettably, the damage wrought by these greedheads is not confined to New York, and in fact spreads all over the world, to a lot of places where you cannot enjoy the New York City Ballet and related cultural luxuries. And so my sympathy is the proverbial world’s tiniest violin, playing a sad, sad song.
Oh, and please: Do not tell me that not being able to afford a Manhattan apartment is somehow equal to owning a Michigan house actively sending real dollars down the toilet, in large part because of Wall Street’s criminal behavior. Just…don’t.
Next, the cheekier NYT Sunday Styles. Hed: You try to live on 500K in this town. You sense that a story sourced by an author of an “Upper East Side novel of manners,” real-estate agents and the editor of the New York Social Diary is trying to apply the needle:
Private school: $32,000 a year per student.
Mortgage: $96,000 a year.
Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year.
Nanny: $45,000 a year.
We are already at $269,000, and we haven’t even gotten to taxes yet.
Oh, my. [Pause for thought.] You know, this story is just here to push my buttons. I decline to have my buttons pushed. If you’d like to bat it around in comments, fine, but include me out.
I’m disinclined to engage with Candace Bushnell’s thoughts on what taking the train over a chauffeured Town Car might say about a banker forced to do so, in part because I read this story today, too, and a similar one, from the New Yorker, on Friday. You can read it at that link, but you’ll have to register; a video distillation is here.) The New Yorker story is better, but longer, and takes a look at how Florida’s “Ponzi economy” was brought to a catastrophic halt by the mortgage debacle, how housing was the engine of a long train representing Florida’s linked businesses, and when the engine hit a wall, the subsequent derailment was felt all the way back to the caboose. Reporter George Packer talks to people all along the socioeconomic spectrum, all of whom are suffering varying degrees of calamity. It was, honestly, the most depressing thing I’ve read in a very long time, although I was cheered to see that the “we all must share the blame for this” rhetoric was called out a time or two. A St. Petersburg Times journalist said the blame for this disaster looks like an inverted pyramid, with Wall Street and politicians at the top, and I think that’s about right. Packer talks to a couple who never went subprime, never treated their house like a cash machine, never overspent on credit cards, just tried to eke out a living near the bottom of the economy, and they are now the ones saying things like, “Maybe I’m a bad person. That must be why this is happening to me.” This, Packer observes, is more penitence than it currently being shown in New York or Washington at the moment.
So that’s what you should read.
A bit of bloggage? OK, a bit:
When Jim Harrison wrote his wonderful essay, “Ice Fishing, the Moronic Sport,” he wasn’t kidding. Really:
The day began with fishermen setting down wooden pallets to create a bridge over a crack in the ice so they could roam farther out on the lake. But the planks fell into the water when the ice shifted, stranding the fishermen about 1,000 yards offshore.
One hundred thirty-four saved from their own stupidity, one dead. The day’s temperature: Just shy of 50 degrees. I only wish I was kidding.
My mother’s favorite cabaret singer died this weekend. My mother and thousands of gay men, that is.
Finally, I know I’m very tough on the world’s most overrated newspaper columnist, but in the tradition of even broken clocks being correct twice a day, I give you…(drumroll)…a Mitch Albom column I actually liked. Halley’s Comet will likely appear before this happens again.
Finally, is it just me, or does “Stimulus Package” sound like the title of a dirty movie? Just wondering.
Enjoy your week.