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By Michael M. Thomas, who figured out Wall Street was not all it was cracked up to be before most of you were born
I can’t recall which divine agency wafted me to the shores of Naked Capitalism, or when it was (I’m guessing late 2008, when I was writing occasional pieces for Forbes.com on aspects of the financial crisis that struck me as distinctly odd), but once ashore I stayed. Every morning now, the first thing I read is Yves Smith’s absolutely indispensable website. Without it, the way things have gone in the realms of postmodern, oligarchic finance capitalism, together with the noxious exhaust fumes produced by the caravansaries rumbling along the gold-paved highway to Hell that runs between Wall Street and Washington and back again, would have reduced me to a blithering idiot, seeing much, comprehending little, blinded by fury and deafened by cant.
I went to work on Wall Street in 1961, was a partner and co-head of corporate finance at Lehman at the turn of the 1970s, did the same at pre-Milken Burnham & Co. in the mid-1970s, consulted for a while and then started writing about Wall Street in 1980, a process that has produced eight published novels (Hanover Place was deemed by Louis Auchincloss to be one of the ten best American novels about finance) and God knows how much journalism. I’m now working on a ninth novel, titled Fixers, about Washington, Wall Street and the financial crisis. In aid of this effort, I have perhaps 5000 items in my Evernote clippings file. Of these, I can confidently say that a good 20% come directly or indirectly from Naked Capitalism.
Why should this be so? Well, more than any other forum, Naked Capitalism consistently suggests and proposes new ways to bridge what I consider the abyss that will one day sink us all if Koch brothers-style politics and capitalism have their way: the chasm that lies between what we need to know and what we have been (and will be) allowed to know. This is largely because Yves Smith’s posts and links are, unlike those on offer on roughly 90% of financial websites, rooted in a process that combines scientific and procedural rigor with moral conviction. If she “talks her book,” and she does, her “book” isn’t a portfolio or an investment strategy, but certain ideas about right and wrong, words both Wall Street and Washington long ago forgot how to spell, let alone live by. This is all very well provided one understands and gets the arithmetic right, but many if not most don’t, in which case their adjurations are worthless. Not only can Yves do the math, she brings to the website other posters who do as well. Yet her site conspicuously lacks the philosophical and technical self-congratulation, the egregious algorithmic bullying and, above all, the nasty “insiderness,” that mars better-known and statistically more widely viewed financial blogs and websites. You can take this as gospel, because it comes from someone who’s been “inside” places these creeps, with their pathetic fantasies of fifteen minutes in the Charlie Rose spotlight, can only dream of.
I have often complained that the trouble with the Internet is that it has given literally tens of thousands of people with nothing to say a place to say it. Naked Capitalism invaluably shoves common sense, technical knowledge and moral passion down the throats of that twittering rabble and silences their nonsense. When I read Naked Capitalism, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotations, one of those apothegms that, once read, sticks barnacle-like to one’s awareness. It goes like this:
In around 1912, a professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford addressed the students in his course to the effect that what they were about to study would have little utilitarian application to the works-and-days, getting-and-spending lives they would lead once they went down from the university. “Save only this,” he told them, “that if you work hard and diligently, at the end of this course you will have a good idea of when another man is speaking rot, and that, in my opinion, is the main if not the sole purpose of education.”
It pleases me to think that were he living at this hour, Professor John Alexander Smith would have become as devoted and (in every sense) as constant a reader of Naked Capitalism as yours truly. And I hope you’ll join its devoted readers in supporting this beacon of sanity.
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