Could the New York Times please do a better job with its op-ed page, please?

The country is in the middle of a very serious financial crisis.  The Grey Lady is probably receiving an onslaught of op-ed submissions to publish in order to make sense of the current situaion. It is quite curious, then, that the New York Times decided to run with two pieces of dreck.  James Grant’s op-ed ...

The country is in the middle of a very serious financial crisis.  The Grey Lady is probably receiving an onslaught of op-ed submissions to publish in order to make sense of the current situaion. It is quite curious, then, that the New York Times decided to run with two pieces of dreck.  James Grant's op-ed is about a good topic -- the role of the dollar as a reserve currency -- but it's way long on assertion and way short on evidence.  In the best of times, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve pretended as if the dollar were America’s currency alone. Now, in some of the worst of times, Washington is treating its vital overseas dollar constituency as if it weren’t even there. Which failing financial institution will the administration pluck from the flames of crisis? Which will it let roast? Which market, or investment technique, will the regulators bless? Which — in a capricious change of the rules — will it condemn or outlaw? Just how shall the Treasury secretary spend the $700 billion he’s begging for? Viewed from Wall Street, the administration’s recent actions appear erratic enough. Seen from the perch of a foreign investor, they must look very much like “political risk,” a phrase we Americans usually associate with so-called emerging markets, not with our own very developed one. To which I say, "huh?"  It's pretty clear that foreign investors played a significant role in the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout.  It's pretty clear that foreign banks are going to be in on the "toxic debt" bailout.  Despite the exercise of democratic debate dickering, it's pretty clear that there is going to be a bailout.  And it's pretty clear that U.S. debt remains the safe haven.  Grant raises an interesting possibility -- but provides zero evidence (beyond yesterday's decline in the dollar) to back it up.  Today's other op-ed is from Barbara Ehrenreich, who thinks Americans are too damn cheery: Positive thinking is endemic to American culture — from weight loss programs to cancer support groups — and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a “positive person,” and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster.... Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success. Calvinists thought “negatively,” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh attitude that positive thinking arose — among mystics, lay healers and transcendentalists — in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough. When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try. I'd buy this "realism rather than negativism" argument more if it wasn't for the fact that Ehrenreich's daughter once told me how Ehrenreich thought about the U.S. economy:   Soooo.... better op-eds, please, so I don't have to blog about this crap. 

The country is in the middle of a very serious financial crisis.  The Grey Lady is probably receiving an onslaught of op-ed submissions to publish in order to make sense of the current situaion. It is quite curious, then, that the New York Times decided to run with two pieces of dreck.  James Grant’s op-ed is about a good topic — the role of the dollar as a reserve currency — but it’s way long on assertion and way short on evidence. 

In the best of times, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve pretended as if the dollar were America’s currency alone. Now, in some of the worst of times, Washington is treating its vital overseas dollar constituency as if it weren’t even there. Which failing financial institution will the administration pluck from the flames of crisis? Which will it let roast? Which market, or investment technique, will the regulators bless? Which — in a capricious change of the rules — will it condemn or outlaw? Just how shall the Treasury secretary spend the $700 billion he’s begging for? Viewed from Wall Street, the administration’s recent actions appear erratic enough. Seen from the perch of a foreign investor, they must look very much like “political risk,” a phrase we Americans usually associate with so-called emerging markets, not with our own very developed one.

To which I say, “huh?”  It’s pretty clear that foreign investors played a significant role in the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout.  It’s pretty clear that foreign banks are going to be in on the “toxic debt” bailout.  Despite the exercise of democratic debate dickering, it’s pretty clear that there is going to be a bailout.  And it’s pretty clear that U.S. debt remains the safe haven.  Grant raises an interesting possibility — but provides zero evidence (beyond yesterday’s decline in the dollar) to back it up.  Today’s other op-ed is from Barbara Ehrenreich, who thinks Americans are too damn cheery:

Positive thinking is endemic to American culture — from weight loss programs to cancer support groups — and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a “positive person,” and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster…. Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success. Calvinists thought “negatively,” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh attitude that positive thinking arose — among mystics, lay healers and transcendentalists — in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough. When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.

I’d buy this “realism rather than negativism” argument more if it wasn’t for the fact that Ehrenreich’s daughter once told me how Ehrenreich thought about the U.S. economy: 

 Soooo…. better op-eds, please, so I don’t have to blog about this crap. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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