Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Bright Side of Alternative Perspectives

Mikaela says:
Trying to look at the bright side of things over here. As a recipient of what might be the last VA loan given out for a while, my husband and I are trying on our own to turn around the American economy with our 1950s-style purchases -- refrigerator, stove, washer/dryer, $500 in Target crap, uncalculated hundreds more at Lowe's for nails and cabinet organizers and ... more crap. The world's on fire, you say? No sweat. We've got Arm & Hammer pet carpet deodorizer! That should protect us from the worst flames...

It's really not as bad as all that. We've purchased a tiny little adobe house -- energy-efficient, just big enough, totally affordable (here's hoping), close to public transit. The washer/dryer is a combo unit that uses 1/3 of the water and electricity of other units. The fridge is a top performer, energy-star rated, blah blah blah.

Still. It's jarring to have personal circumstances so disjointed from the world crumbling around us.

I've been limiting most of my economic news and study lessons to resources from This American Life (of course!). They've done some stunning shows that have really shaped my education about all this craziness. They don't have "experts" or "journalists" or even "pundits" so much as really good questioners. As in: people who question the official story or explanation for some paradox-changing proposals. It's a whole different level of exploration than the necessarily hypocritical and therefore overly gentle perspective of the national media.

  1. The first was a show in May on the mortgage crisis. Great on-the-ground, personal stories from mortgage jockeys riding the roller coaster, benefiting and failing as the bubble rose and burst.
  2. The next was a segment on the SEC head's choice not to enforce regulations, which led to our current mess. That's a doozy.
  3. Then they did a show two weeks ago on the bailout plan before it was passed, which talked about the weakness of Paulson's original proposal to buy toxic assets that can't really be priced and a hidden strength buried in the language for stock injections, which we're seeing come to the fore now as a better idea.

The two main guys who did these shows are now doing a blog and daily podcasts, some in coordination with NPR, so you may have heard snippets. As always, I find these TAL regulars to be so ... accessible, so human-scale, so clear. They may have ulterior motives, but the overarching motive is to understand all this, using whatever information they can put together.

  • Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson have a new daily podcast and blog applying that same explanatory power to each day's breaking news on the financial crisis -- Planet Money.

This American Life also recommends these resources:

  • A great episode of Fresh Air, in which Terry Gross interviews Michael Greenberger, a former director at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He gives a very helpful, lucid primer on the current financial picture.
  • A follow-up Terry did with Greenberger, just as good, when the government bailed out AIG in mid-September.

I so appreciate having these alternative resources to really understand all this stuff and hear alternative perspectives about what’s really a good idea and what’s … ideologically driven (and dangerous).

And to end with a little humorous shadenfreude, take a look at this cartoon featuring a certain Cuban leader looking at the sudden American embrace of nationalizing banks.

Adam Zyglis
The Buffalo News
Oct 10, 2008