As I was reading the Sunday New York Times business section, I actually laughed out loud. I had turned to the inside of the Gretchen Morgenson finance piece entitled “A New Light on Regulators in the Dark”, and was reading the end when I noticed another article on the same page: “Mars, Venus and the Handling of Money”.
First, thank goodness I still read the Sunday newspaper in physical form. The irony might have been lost on me had I been scrolling along on my iPad. This way, though, it was clear. The Morgenson article was about how the guys really couldn’t or didn’t want to see the severity of the financial crisis as it unfolded in 2008. The other was about how women’s perspectives on money and the economy might actually have validity.
Morgenson had been reading the just-released transcripts of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings from 2008. During this time period, the Fed rescued Bear Stearns, stood by for the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers, and bailed out AIG (American International Group). One would hope that this august body of financial experts would have fully considered the ramifications of their decisions, including a dangerous precedent of “too big to fail” (unless it’s Lehman Brothers).
Instead, the minutes reveal repeated failures by the likes of Tim Geithner (then-President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and later Secretary of the Treasury) and others to face up to the seriousness of the situation. Here’s a sample quote from Geithner: “Based on everything we know today, if you look at very pessimistic estimates of the scale of losses across the financial system, on average relative to capital, they do not justify that concern.”
Perhaps Geithner was referring to the perception of Wall Street's infallibility that existed up until the day it became obvious that its game was highly fallible. He certainly does not appear to have engaged in any thoughtful and hard-edged analysis of the leverage, financial engineering, and bubble mentalities that were prevalent. Not an excuse, but maybe an explanation. Perhaps the FOMC should have been more tuned in to the wisdom of Janet Yellen, Brooksley Born, and Sheila Bair.
Meanwhile, the author of the Mars and Venus article, M. P. Dunleavy, tiptoes when she could have galloped. She rightfully points out that women control a lot of money and that it makes sense for advisors to pay attention to them. She stops short, though, of positing that women might actually be better money managers than men. By better, I mean that women in general may take more holistic, long term views of their finances and succomb much less frequently to the impulsive call of testosterone.
And I say better because holistic and long term is simply the reality we live in. Not the delusional, self-destructive one we’ve built in the form of our financial system, but the reality of the world we live and breathe in, in which everything is connected in a careful balance over lengths of time so much greater than our own lives. It’s time we stop exploring whether money can work like that and time to start recognizing that’s the only way it will work.