Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wall Street Sinkings

It's like watching "Titanic" at a multiplex with sequels on every screen as Lehman Brothers goes under and other huge financial vessels with gaping holes are being towed toward hopefully safe harbors.

For older observers, the maritime metaphor recalls a sendup of Wall Street, "Where Are the Customers' Yachts?", first published in 1940 and reissued seven years ago. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg, New York's new Mayor, called it "a hilarious classic that proves the more things change the more they stay the same."

The new edition was on the reading list for interns at Bear Stearns, apparently to no avail, and few investors seemed to take seriously Fred Schwed's opening caution:

"'Wall Street,' reads the sinister old gag, 'is a street with a river at one end and a graveyard at the other.' This is striking but incomplete. It omits the kindergarten in the middle..."

But no one is laughing now. "The nation," says a New York Times editorial today," needs a new perspective on the markets, one that acknowledges the self-destructive bent of unfettered capitalism and its ability, unchecked, to wreak havoc far beyond Wall Street."

Both presidential candidates are out there placing blame and offering life rafts for the survivors, who will have to get out of the kindergarten fast and learn how to stay afloat.

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