Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Comedian's Guide To The Economic Crisis

I never thought I would need an MBA to make jokes about the news. But for the past several weeks, both onstage and in The Strategy Room at, I've been searching for the side-splitting humor in credit default swaps, derivatives, and other words I had never thought about, much less uttered in public. But then I realized the so-called "financial experts" who actually know what those terms mean, didn't know(or didn't want to know) about the conditions that led to the financial meltdown. In fact, the talking heads on the business networks are as accurate as TV weathermen, but not as likable. And when weathermen get the forecast wrong, we don't lose lots of money. We just get a liitle wet.

Just as I was understanding "toxic assets", they changed it to "troubled assets". Troubled assets sound like assets with emotional problems. I can hear a troubled asset saying "I was happy until I got caught up in that subprime mess. Now I'm in therapy three times a week." At least if you're a troubled asset, you still have friends. Toxic assets must be pretty lonely. Now they're called "legacy". The assets may still be troubled, but now they have a better chance of getting into a good college.

Good banks and bad banks confuse me too. I don't want to demonize the 99% of bank employees who are decent and hard working, but the last time there was a good bank was in "It's A Wonderful Life". What do banks do for us anyway? They give us the privilege of depositing our money there, where it earns a lot of money for the banks and not so much for us. Especially after those $39 returned check fees. With the exception of the small number of local and regional banks who played by the rules and deserve to be commended, what is a good bank anyway? Do you ever hear someone extoll the virtues of a bank on Facebook? "I LOVE CHASE! It's SO much cooler than Citbank!"

Everyone's talking about how we don't want "our money" going to AIG bonuses. First of all, the vast majority of AIG employees did their job well, and had no connection to those who committed the reckless, risky and unethical activity. The bad apples don't deserve a penny, and should have been fired immediately. But "our money?" Of course, technically it's our money, but we're not going to have to pay for those bonuses ourselves. Our taxes won't go up because of it. It would be another thing altogether, if you looked at your bank statement and you saw a whopping "Bailout Charge" on it.

I understand the populist rage over inappropriate compensation, but where were the tea parties to protest the trillion dollars spent so far on the Iraq War? Distorting intelligence and deliberately misleading the American people should have gotten more people angry enough to take to the streets.

People can disagree about President Obama's economic policies, but those who challenge his work ethic have it wrong. An intelligent, well-rounded person like our President is capable of working hard on every important issue, and still take a few minutes to do his NCAA bracket. And I'm glad he's been on TV a lot lately. In stark contrast, George W. Bush had one press conference in his first nine months in office.

When we're faced with something as difficult to grasp as our financial crisis, we need our President to talk to us, explain to us, and ultimately reassure us. And those troubled assets.