Friday, January 02, 2009

Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, RIP

I just want to give the late French aristocrat, yachtsman, and swindler Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet (whew! If I had had that name I would have been beaten to death in gym class decades ago)props for having the balls to kill himself after blowing $1.4 billion of his and his clients’ money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi pyramid. Maybe he had a heightened sense of honor because he was French, or an aristocrat, which is to say, he wasn’t a native-born American Wall Street rat. Our Street-toughened home grown rattus ratti REWARD themselves for their failures with golden parachutes and other pay-offs while furiously denying any responsibility for their massive malfeasance. At least back in ‘29 some brokers had the decency to fling themselves to their deaths out of their Wall Street office windows…….or was that just a myth, the myth of the floundering financiers with consciences? Anyway, if any more of the present crop of mega-crooks have killed themselves, I haven’t heard about them. And if they DO kill themselves, will they do it because their honor is forever stained, because they feel bad about blowing Other Peoples’ Billions, because they’re terrified of getting publicly tried and possibly jailed, or simply because they have no idea how to live without their evaporated billions? Of course, really smart thieves like Madoff will never be troubled by that last problem. No matter how many Other Peoples’ Billions they’ve blown/stolen, they’ve made sure to pocket unlimited mountains of moolah for themselves so they and their families will never go hungry or yachtless or mansionless. Madoff, for example, is able to visit his other New York area estates during the day before having to crawl back to house arrest in his $7 million dollar Manhattan cell each evening.

Bush had a faithbased constituency, but we all have a faithbased economy. And many of us put our faith in money managers who have conned and lied on an inconceivably grand scale. Now, if we have any money left, we scarcely know where to invest it, for The Street has exhausted its credibility and its credit. When will this crisis of confidence recover? In his column today, David Brooks quotes Christopher Caldwell: “…credit is successfully re-established when financial elites say, ‘When.’ Credit is close to a synonym for the mood of the ruling class. to say an economy is based on credit is to say it is based on animal mysteries. Glamour, prestige, elan, sprezzatura, cutting a figure….that is what the economy is made of.” Let us not forget that conman is short for confidence man. There is no con without the sucker’s confidence in the con. And there is no eCONomy without investors’ confidence in the con.

But during the last Great Depression, confidence in the con was so devastated not even the ruling class could say “When.” The Depression dragged on, year after year, until the armaments spending of World War II provided jobs and income galore. The rising tide that floated all boats was blood red. It took Mega-Death Himself to restore confidence in the con that was and is the American economy.


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