Friday, April 11, 2008

The fish were jumping and the cotton was high

Here is a snippet of Lewis Lapham's commentary from the newly-arrived May 2008 Harper's, which begins with his quoting of a Wall Street bigshot:

There is not any one news item that I can point to. We know that there is paper out there that we can't trust. We don't know exactly who owns it or how much. And we don't know how they are valuing it.
The observation embraced both the joys and sorrows of an enterprise dependent upon the manufacture of something for nothing. On the summertime side of the proposition, when the fish are jumping and the cotton is high, the paperwork slows down the momentum, gets in the way of the oceanfront views. God forbid that any buyers out there (of Florida, sandcastles, credit-debt obligations from JPMorgan Chase) should know exactly what they own -- how much or how little of it, whether it fades in strong sunlight or washes off in the laundry. When the autumn leaves begin to fall the only intelligible paper that anybody is likely to see is the arrest warrant and the eviction notice.

Which isn't to say the confidence game is somehow un-American or wrong. It is a national pastime as dearly beloved as baseball -- appreciated as an art and enjoyed as a sport -- but the rules are sometimes hard to explain to Baptist clergymen and bearded foreigners.
This is what I love about Lapham as a social critic and a prose stylist: high and low, cynicism and insight, smartass and sage.

1 comment:

mikesdak said...

As Warren Buffet said, "It's only after the tide goes out that you find who has been swimming naked".
He also said that he never buys a stock or security if he doesn't understand what it does. I haven't heard anything about his company taking big losses.