The Fools on the Hill

Watching the House interrogation of Wall Street leaders demonstrated conclusively to me that one of the greatest causes of the problems we face is that members of the House (and the Senate) simply do not have a clue about how finance works. Ask any group of 10 of these honorable yabos how a credit default ...

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588539_090213_84739807_resized2.jpg
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 11: Executives from the financial institutions who received TARP funds, (L-R) Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon, The Bank of New York Mellon CEO Robert P. Kelly, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, State Street Corporation CEO and Chairman Ronald Logue, Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO John Mack, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, Wells Fargo President and CEO John Stumpf testify before the House Financial Services Committee February 11, 2009 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on how financial institutions have spent funds received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Watching the House interrogation of Wall Street leaders demonstrated conclusively to me that one of the greatest causes of the problems we face is that members of the House (and the Senate) simply do not have a clue about how finance works. Ask any group of 10 of these honorable yabos how a credit default swap works and one might know the answer, if that.

This is a broader problem. In a recent conversation with a retired Senator, a very prominent, respected former committee chair, he said that he guessed on a critical issue, like energy, there are only perhaps 3 or 4 legislators who actually understand our energy choice options well enough to write sensible legislation or understand what is said in a hearing. The problem is getting worse as technology, finance, even international affairs are getting more and more complicated, our legislators are falling farther and farther behind in their understanding of the fields for which they have oversight or other responsibilities.

Watching the House interrogation of Wall Street leaders demonstrated conclusively to me that one of the greatest causes of the problems we face is that members of the House (and the Senate) simply do not have a clue about how finance works. Ask any group of 10 of these honorable yabos how a credit default swap works and one might know the answer, if that.

This is a broader problem. In a recent conversation with a retired Senator, a very prominent, respected former committee chair, he said that he guessed on a critical issue, like energy, there are only perhaps 3 or 4 legislators who actually understand our energy choice options well enough to write sensible legislation or understand what is said in a hearing. The problem is getting worse as technology, finance, even international affairs are getting more and more complicated, our legislators are falling farther and farther behind in their understanding of the fields for which they have oversight or other responsibilities.

This is not a snipe at Congress…okay, it is, but that almost seems too easy, like joking about Bush’s intellect or Simon Cowell’s man-boobs, but this is a serious problem, one of many with what is by far the most dysfunctional branch of the United States government.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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