American Finance: An Accurate History

Using facts, Historian David Tveite tells us why ignoring the lessons of the past has doomed us in the present.

The TV says that it’s raining blood on Wall Street. Four dark spirits abandon their horses near the East River, and ride Segways over the Brooklyn Bridge while Zambonis mosey up and down the street, picking up the flattened corpses of despondent stockbrokers that speckle the pavement. 

Do I have your attention?

Sorry. The 24-hour news media has used up so many of the good metaphors that you’ve gotta get gross if you want to sound original.

The Dow plummeted (I use this word almost every time I get the chance) an insane 778 points on Monday. Se-ven-hun-dred-se-ven-ty-eight. Eight syllables. We are eight syllables deep in this shit.

So what happened? People are behaving like someone kicked a support beam out from beneath the sky and all of a sudden CNN starts running breaking news all day. The anchors use phrases like “financial armageddon.”

Well, it goes a little bit like this: Way back in the day—like ninety years ago or something—a bunch of people came up with this thing called (I think) “credit.” Then a bunch of d-bags in spats and seersucker suits spent way more money than they had on croquet mallets, cigarette holders, and boyish indie haircuts for their girlfriends before the stock market exploded into a pile of burning rubble and everybody starved for a decade.

Okay, so you know that tiny guy on the front of the dime? He was once a full-sized dude, though only half of him worked. But it didn’t matter—he used that half to make changes to the country’s economic policies so that this shit would never happen again.

Fade to black. Cue dramatic music.

PRESENT DAY AMERICA

Cue sound of a heavy wooden door slamming.

Remember that dime guy? Remember those measures he put in so that American children would never again have to kill and eat their own siblings? We shredded, uh, a bunch of them. I know, right? History can be pretty funny sometimes. See, there were these dreadfully fat old white dudes who figured out a way to melt money into a thick viscous liquid and mainline it in the bathroom twice an hour. They got higher than hell on the stuff, but all they wanted was to do it again and again. The more they injected, the higher they got.

So these guys bluntly ignored history and proceeded to do exactly the same thing as those other dudes way back in the day (before the dime guy). Now there’s a part of this story I’m leaving out because, just like that other time, there were people spending money they didn’t have. This thing, it grinned up at them and it had neon lights for eyes and teeth like screwdrivers. But all they saw was money.

It’s probably more complicated, more justifiable than that; most things are. People need to pay for college, raise a family, start a business—it doesn’t matter. However it happened, a lot of people sold their souls, and they’re going to have to own up to that. Chances are they already have.

And that brings us to today, when our system finally proved too corrupt even to cover its own ass anymore. “Watch out or this sucker could go down!” Thanks for the heads up, W. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and plenty has been dealt out already. Nancy Pelosi picked about the worst time to give a bitchy “told ya so” speech, but the Republicans who went on television and flatly admitted that their bailout nays were just to get back at her are beyond pathetic. More troubling still, 95 Democrats voted against the bill. And we wonder why Congress doesn’t seem to get anything done.

So the stock market continues to plummet (yesss!), and Rome burns while our lawmakers hack blindly at each other’s ankles. I’m trying to muster surprise, but this is more or less what I’ve grown up with.

How much longer until January again?

David C. Tveite, Esq. is an English and history student at the University of Puget Sound. His coming of age was badly stunted by Hollywood fame when he appeared at age fourteen on the hit CBS series Survivor: The Moon. He still considers himself a celebrity, and it's beginning to make his family and friends sad. He also writes A Regular Dude's World Atlas.