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Joe Nocera: "This is how the big lie works"

I was pretty lukewarm on Nocera's first couple columns, but he has definitely developed a voice. An angry voice. That is pretty fun to read. The Big Lie - NYTimes.com
So this is how the Big Lie works. You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings. You’re chosen for an investigative panel related to your topic. When other panel members, after inspecting your evidence, reject your thesis, you claim that they did so for ideological reasons. This, too, is repeated by your allies. Soon, the echo chamber you created drowns out dissenting views; even presidential candidates begin repeating the Big Lie. Thus has Peter Wallison, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, almost single-handedly created the myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis. His partner in crime is another A.E.I. scholar, Edward Pinto, who a very long time ago was Fannie’s chief credit officer. Pinto claims that as of June 2008, 27 million “risky” mortgages had been issued — “and a lion’s share was on Fannie and Freddie’s books,” as Wallison wrote recently. Never mind that his definition of “risky” is so all-encompassing that it includes mortgages with extremely low default rates as well as those with default rates nearing 30 percent. These latter mortgages were the ones created by the unholy alliance between subprime lenders and Wall Street. Pinto’s numbers are the Big Lie’s primary data point. . . .

December 23, 2011

On Sharecropping for Facebook, and Other Forms of Opinion Debt

My latest Time and Money column for the Ann Arbor...

December 22, 2011

Matt Taibbi: The poor have nothing but skin in the game

A billionaire whined publicly that the 99% have "no skin in the game," economically speaking. Taibbi sets him straight. A Christmas Message From America's Rich | | Rolling Stone
But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You've got it all riding on how well America works. You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you'd better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street. And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air. The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government. An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.