Does Everyone Know?

The great conductor Bruno Walter once said that conductors should not be allowed to conduct Mozart until they were 50—they simply didn’t, in his view, have the depth of experience or understanding to appreciate the complexities of the music before then. Walter didn’t say this directly, but I would add, that without that experience, they would likely impose their ego on the music and, in so doing, diminish the music.

Perhaps Walter’s rule should be applied to Presidents, Secretaries of the Treasury, and other wannabe masters of the universe. Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner were born with two weeks of each other in August 1961.

Today, as I listened to Secretary Geithner testify before the House Ways and Means Committee, I heard a man who was in far over his head and had not one shred of humility to realize it. Almost every sentence was peppered with phrases such as “There is no alternative,” “Everyone agrees,” “No choice,” and “Absolutely, the right judgment.” He pulled every trick in the playbook to stifle dialogue. He appealed to authority (Obama); he appealed to predictability (absolutely will work); and he appealed to unquestioned agreement (who wants to be the one who doesn’t know?).

In all, his was a disgraceful performance. Now, it could be that some unschooled in logic are taken in by such verbal tricks. Perhaps. But those that are have already been convinced that Geithner and Obama can do the impossible—namely, control what is forever uncontrollable. They have been convinced that the cure for the drugs of credit and budget deficits is still more credit and budget deficits. The rest of us can only shudder that such “talent” has been given the power to wreck the economy—perhaps for a generation.

Those who defend such incompetence are reduced to saying “we must try something” or “give him a chance.”  Give him a chance? Would you give your supermarket check-out clerk a chance to perform heart surgery on you? Would you give the neighborhood boy down the street a chance to play center field for the Yankees (they could use a good one)? Would give your child’s junior high school classmate a chance to design a new bridge over the Hudson River?

These are unfair comparisons. There is at least some chance that the neighborhood boy could catch a ball in center field; there is no chance that a human being can ever have the knowledge to direct the uncontrollable, modern, market economy. That is why in the place of real logical arguments, we will be hearing many more “everyone knows.”

Poor Caroline Kennedy! She was roasted by the press for saying “you know” too often in interviews during her attempt to be appointed to the Senate seat of Hillary Clinton. If only Kennedy was coached better—she could have substituted “everyone knows” and been lionized by the media.

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20 Responses to Does Everyone Know?

  1. e says:

    I don’t know where to begin with this. I’m tired of these so-called experts with their polished resumes (Geithner, MA Johns Hopkins, Bernanke, Harvard and MIT) who can’t do the math; who haven’t studied the issue from a financial perspective; who can’t be honest about the situation. Finance is a function of math and statistics. The math says we cannot pay off this debt we currently have. Every person (man, woman, and child) in the US is now in debt for $40,000. If we were to suspend the interest on this principal (ha!), and decided as a nation to pay off the debt in the next year… everyone would have to work for free (including every child being born for the next 12 months, or conversely, someone would have to pay $80,000 to take up the slack for the missing contribution). Since this is an impossibility, then the next logical conclusion would be to structure a payoff schedule. We can’t do this either because the interest is accruing at a faster rate than we can pay it off since we’re really not servicing any of it (4% interest on $40,000 loan means that we will accrue $1600 per person over next 12 months; next year, we will owe $41,600/person). Time-compounded interest makes it impossible to repay the debts, statistically speaking. Therefore, this tells me that we are past the point of any rationale financing, structured or otherwise. The only conclusion I can formulate as to “how this ends” is that we will have to disavow some debts at some point. Write off what we can, and salvage the debts we can. Essentially, Giethner and Obama (though I am a fan) will hasten the destruction of our capital markets (i.e. when full faith and credit of our solvency no longer exists).

  2. Steve Pilotte says:

    Barry,
    For someone who has been wrong about the economy as much as Geithner over the years one would expect him to have gained some degree of humility by this point. That he has not is an indicator that the harsh lessons to come will also fail in this regard. I have no expectation of any future mea culpas from this person. I only hope to one day see him appear before the House Financial Services Commitee where we might get to see him squirm under pointed questions posed by Rep. Ron Paul. When confronted with the bright light of truth, wisdom, integrity, and the harsh reality of their own ineptness, little men like Geithner cower in the shadows until they think it safe to come out again.

  3. E,

    I agree we are past the point that we can avoid some form of national bankruptcy.

    Steve,

    History tells us that we allow “little men” to wield so much unbridled power the results are tragic. This time will be no exception. We may see the day when “pointed questions” are eventually “outlawed” in the name of national unity.

  4. Tesh says:

    The “everyone knows” and “everyone agrees” arguments were also employed by Al Gore in his diatribe against the spectre of man-made global warming. There is no consensus among scientists, and even if there were, there certainly wouldn’t be a consensus for what to do next. The economy isn’t controllable by one man, or even one cabinet, and neither is the ecology.

    Sadly, critical thinking isn’t taught in the schools these days, so these guys get a free pass, and are praised for their oratory. Flowery words have covered a lot of incompetent thinking over the years.

  5. Tesh,

    Let’s not forget mindless exhortations such as “yes we can.” It is intended as a substitute for the hard work of having a national conversation about real causes and solutions.

  6. Tesh says:

    Indeed. That’s why I don’t bother listening to politicians any more, except as contrarian indicators. I just watch to see what they will do to destroy my life, and then go on finding ways to compensate.

    I’ve always hated the clinical “we”, and when politicians presume to speak for me, it’s an extra level of annoyance.

  7. Mike says:

    “The great conductor Bruno Walter once said that conductors should not be allowed to conduct Mozart until they were 50—they simply didn’t, in his view, have the depth of experience or understanding to appreciate the complexities of the music before then. Walter didn’t say this directly, but I would add, that without that experience, they would likely impose their ego on the music and, in so doing, diminish the music.” Human beings are closest to perfection while they are an infant before they are polluted by expectation and experience I am not sure how waiting to 50 to conduct Mozart will make a person better at conducting since they will be polluted by their on life experience of music.

    “Would you give your supermarket check-out clerk a chance to perform heart surgery on you? ” Today’s supermarket clerk can be tomorrows doctor and the medical field is called a practice because every time you go see the doctor he is practicing on you.

    “There is no alternative,” “Everyone agrees,” “No choice,” and “Absolutely, the right judgment.” He pulled every trick in the playbook to stifle dialogue. He appealed to authority (Obama); he appealed to predictability (absolutely will work); and he appealed to unquestioned agreement (who wants to be the one who doesn’t know?). you know boss no one agrees about what i want to do we should do it anyway. Mr. employee you have a choice not to listen to what i tell you to do . (In front of the company and shareholders) I have no idea if my judgment is right be we are going to invest in that company anyway. Secretary Geithner said what was needed to demand action. To much time is wasted on dialogue creates to much inaction. In addition, all the check and balances on the presidents power dilutes his accountability on failures and spreads it to other governing bodies.

    Let the plan prevail and hold him accountable in 4 years.

  8. Mike,

    Those who are swayed by mindless rhetoric, will never hold Obama accountable. They will say those who opposed him spoiled the plan. They will claim the plan was perfect but he was failed by his staff in the implementation. They will claim now is not the time to turn away from the plan just as it is about to work. They will claim he needs new and broader powers to meet the crisis. etc. etc.

  9. Lon says:

    I think I’ve missed something here. I used to get something regularly from Barry Brownstein, but it was fairly spiritual and personal and high – minded in nature. I just tuned in to this blogsite, but WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU,BARRY? When did you become a nattering Limbaugh – like self proclaimed expert in economics and government? What happened to the down to earth, but heartfelt and spiritually connected guy? Did something really bad happen to you, or am I talking to a completely different Barry Brownstein? You may know better than all the politicians about our current crisis, but it’s sad you’ve turned from a man seeking and sharing life – affirming wisdom to this nastiness. Like we don’t get enough of this from the usual channels.

  10. Lon,

    I do appreciate your remarks. I can assure you that I’m still very much on a spiritual path. No doubt I fall down on my path every day but the central place that spiritual study/practice has in my life is unshaken.

    Incidentally, I am currently completing a book on leadership that has much spiritual material and I’m beginning a book on economics that combines ideas on liberty with spirituality.

    I’m not sure why you think this post (or others) is idle, mean chatter and not high minded? I’m a professor of economics and the potential economic collapse of our country and our freedom is of great interest to me. Just why is pointing out the verbal tricks of politicians—to take this one post—not high minded?

    Is it because I called Geithner’s performance disgraceful? You may be confusing form and content. In content I know that what we see is very much a projection of our own mind but in form Geithner has chosen to take a job that he can’t do and in form my job is a critic. Being spiritual does not mean that we support destructive actions and hope it works out. If you read my posts you will see that often I point out that the actions of Geithner, Obama and others can only be a reflection of our own collective consciousness; nevertheless they are still responsible for their decisions.

    If I was a spiritually minded judge should I not sentence a criminal? If I were a spiritually minded doctor should I not treat a patient who doesn’t understand that illness begins in the mind?

    I still consider my blog spiritually minded. I look forward to the day when economics is not front and center in our daily headlines. In the meantime, I hope you stick around and continue this dialogue in this thread and others.

  11. Bob G. says:

    As I have stated many times over the last year on some of these posts, the world tends to operate under what I call “Generally Accepted Illusions.” I often refer to this by the acronym – GAIL.

    Never have we have seen such a validation of this as over the last 9 months in particular.

    The more analytical aspect of all this of course is to figure out what drives both our individual and collective GAILS.

    Great thinkers from all of history have warned us to see the world as it is and not be fooled by the self-sustaining illusiuons we create and then rationalize in order to maintain the world that we have become willing to sustain at all costs.

    Some of those “costs” include the need to have an open mind, suspend judgement on pre-conceived paradigms and the ability to consider the reality that the world is always in a state of flow and change.

    Like any complex order, such as the economic market, many do not have an awareness of the reality that has been proven again and again througout history that suggests no one person, leader, panel or agency can cconceive or comprehend the collective outcomes of such an order.

    The answer is not to give more control and power to those who do not appreciate this fact of history. So then why do we continue to make this same mistake again and again? The answer is twofold – fear and ignorance with fear being the primary driver.

    This is analogous in a collective way to how we as indviduals sucomb to our own ego created illusions that keep us from seeing the true and sometimes harsh realities of our individual circumstances. Until the pain of staying is greater than the pain of changing – many say – “reality be damned, i like it the way it is and I see no reason to change and give up my comfortable way of being and operating. Even if it based on an illusion… I like it.”

    Bob G.

  12. Bob,

    Indeed, as a society we are just at the very early stages of questioning our illusions. And to get back to Lon’s comment, what can be more spiritual than that?

  13. Tesh says:

    As I’ve written before, religion and science are both about discovering (not creating) absolute truth. Questioning perception is integral to that process, and if we try to dodge that responsibility by blithely hoping for the best, we’re only cheating ourselves.

    Political spin actively obfuscates reality, and as such, can and should be called to task.

  14. Lon says:

    I had no idea that you were an economics professor, so now this makes more sense. I don’t pretend to have a great understanding of economics, but I can see enough about politics that it doesn’t surprise me that we don’t have really good people making the decisions. But have I been fooled completely here? Are the dire warnings of economic collapse we’ve heard just false? Do we really not need to do something big on a Federal Government level? And who is there up there who would do the right things, that would really work? Surely you’re not saying that we should let the Republican ideals of personal profit and greed no matter what happens, be our guide? There are many ways in which I’m already disappointed by Obama, (I’m very into clean food, and his choice for Sec. of Agriculture is horrible), but who else was there to vote for? Where are the people who could help solve this problem, and how can we get them into those positions where they could? When we have a nation with people who think chanting “kill Obama, he’s a terrorist!” is valid political discourse, is it any wonder we’re easily fooled when it comes to economics?

  15. Lon,

    The reports of economic collapse are indeed true and the dangers ahead are even worse than have been reported.

    There is no way to avoid the pain that comes after the binge of large deficits and the credit bubble induced by the Fed. This was bi-partisan madness. The cure for a drug addict cannot be more drugs.

    The only question are we going to have a swift collapse and then swift recovery (1 -2 years). Or are going to bankrupt America to support zombie automobile makers, banks and insurance companies? Then the pain will last a generation!

    Greed is not a Republican ideal–it is a bi-partisan one. Both parties for instance vote to subsidize ethanol which would not exist on the free-market.

    There was an alternative–Ron Paul. The country was not ready to listen.

  16. Bob G. says:

    Lon,

    Two points regarding your post:

    A. It seems that you are equating profit and greed.

    I believe that they are mutually exclusive in that one, greed, is a behaviour that can be exhibited by either individuals or collectively by bloated agencies, governments and buearacracies as well as corporations.

    The other, profit, is an economic outcome that fuels innovation, rewards risk and has generally provided the highest living standards the world has ever seen where is is allowed to flourish in a fair and open market.

    B. Your question seems to imply that it is unimpeachable and axiomatic that given our current dire economic circumstances that we need the government to do something big on a Federal level.

    Why? On what basis do you make this statement?

    My earlier post is exactly about this kind of thinking. The kind that is merely “accepted” without any kind of open minded cause and effect analysis.

    I think if more people challenged these kind of knee-jerk beliefs they would see that govenrment has been a causal factor in much of the current problems.

    They would further see that over the last 6 decades, federal policies have been driven more by special interests which have in turn caused a governed vs. governing class to emerge.

    Meanwhile, gullible voters still believe the sound-bite / dumb-downed talking points of each party with no willingness to hold the comfortable career politicians accountable. There is no difference in the major poitical parties in this regard.

    I simply question why anyone has faith that these folks should be trusted to do “something.” Where is the thoughful analysis? How can ANY responsible legislator pass this kind of spending without reading the bill??? This is true of Republican (last fall) and Democrats alike (this month).

    In short, why do people like yourself, continue to fall for the illusion that the people who create these problems (or lack the courage to really fix them) should be given even more unchecked power to fix them??

    Perhaps if our schools taught real history instead of politically correct versions, most would be better prepared to deal with realities instead of unchallenged beliefs and perceptions that are substitutes for reality. This is where we are and I appreciate your help in making my point.

    Final thought – spirituality is not about being perceived as nice and/or malleable. It is ultimately about being a voice in the wilderness that is usually agaisnt the typical thinking fo the world. Check out the Old Testament in particular and the life of Ghandi for starters. Even the Zen masters disdain as “foolishness” those that blindly accept mindless mantras with no basis in thoughtful consideration of the merits.

    Bob G.

  17. Mike says:

    “Perhaps Walter’s rule should be applied to Presidents, Secretaries of the Treasury, and other wannabe masters of the universe. Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner were born with two weeks of each other in August 1961.” I think the masters of the universe maybe possible soon!!! We just have to find the gene and create great leaders at birth. We might be able to even re-create the founding fathers of the country. We can clone dogs, cats, sheep and we can even see our kids athletic ability at birth for just 149.99.

    Wow I thought most that came here were his former students like me lol. I use to take my course work into work and have people read it; he was given the nickname Dr.feelgood. My teammates found his writing interesting and helpful. Many of my teammates became more aware of themselves after reading what I was learning and at least became more at peace. FYI if you want to take his class, he assigned an insane amount of books to read and his paper length requirements made the “Twilight” novels seem like short essays, but I did learn alot. (now only if a could rememeber were I left my keys)

  18. Chris C. says:

    Some columnist (sorry, I cannot remember who) recently analogized the “stimulus” bill (bull?) to taking blood from a patient’s leg and inserting it into his arm. I, being more cynical, believe it to me more like the well-meaning but ignorant physicians who bled George Washington to death.

    I agree with Dr. B that we should allow a (relatively) short and certainly sharp correction take place. I lived through the recession of the early 1980s when Volcker squeezed the inflation out of the economy. It was rough, but people made do. I refuse to accept the allegation that Americans are now so much less capable that they cannot weather another such bad recession. Yes, it will almost certainly be worse.

    But not as bad as another Great Depression, and the ideas being put forward by the Obama administration seem to me to be mostly recycled garbage from the FDR administration.

    Just as the neo-con Republicans took advantage of the 9-11 event to ram through the legislative vision they had wanted for years, the leftist Democrats are using the current financial crisis to pass all their dream bills. The fact that each crisis was promoted by those that subsequently took advantage of the opportunity to profit politically is no surprise to me. I have long decided that the only possible winners in a political contest are politicians.

    Chris C.

  19. Bob,

    Thanks for your astute observations.

    Mike,

    The original Dr. Feelgood was a physician who used to shoot both President Kennedy and Park Avenue clients with cocktails of painkillers and other drugs. He earned millions while others of less privilege went to jail for their drug taking.

    Chris,

    Isn’t a better analogy taking blood from the legs of taxpayers and inserting it into the arm of skid-row bums?

  20. Chris C. says:

    Better yet, into the arms of the people who committed the various frauds that largely led to this mess. A local talk-show host calls them banksters (as in gangsters).

    The people who accepted loans they would have known they couldn’t repay, if they weren’t ignorant and possibly also stupid, are a few steps up from bums. And, more importantly to the Democrats, they vote.

    Chris C.

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