Friday, September 10, 2010

More Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has now traveled to Greece to report on the economic crisis there. This has more to it than just credit default swaps and questionable profits, because the center of the scandal is a monastery that is a center of Greek Orthodox spiritual life. Instead of interviewing "suits," Lewis interviews "robes." Underneath it all is a spiritual question of why these monks do what they do, and Lewis never quite gets down to his own beliefs beyond his atheism (leading to duplicity needed to enter the holy mountain, but the monks don't really care and seem strikingly hospitable). It appears the monks are using the real-estate windfall they concocted to benefit their monastery and community, not the "elite" monks at the top. The question remains, isn't that a form of selfishness too? What is going on with Greece here? Any American who made money in any way on the real estate bubble (and that includes me) is fundamentally no different than these monks. And why is it the American investment bankers who are EVERYWHERE promoting the irresponsible finances of the last decade? Michael Lewis opens the door on this situation but by no means are all or even most of the questions answered. Something to chew on.

Here's a great quote:

The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way. No response was as peculiar as the Greeks’, however: anyone who had spent even a few days talking to people in charge of the place could see that. But to see just how peculiar it was, you had to come to this monastery.

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