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Why are Tim Geithner and the Media Playing Dumb About What Happened to Our Money?

Using complexity as a cover for accountability has a long historical track record of ending in disaster.
 
 
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A formerly famous and now mostly forgotten poet of nonsense verse once said: "There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns....there are also unknown unknowns."

That was, of course, Donald Rumsfeld, but it doesn't sound too different from your average briefing/Congressional testimony/interview by Timothy Geithner. Besides being awash in toxic paper, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations, we seem to be drowning in unknowns. Only, I get the sense that there are fewer unknowns than we're being told.

While we're rewarding the risk-taking shareholders of various zombie banks -- not to mention the mysterious, unconfirmed counterparties to AIG's serial recklessness -- how about rewarding the taxpayers, if not with an actual return on our bailout investment then at least with information about what exactly is being done with our money? It's time to call in all the unknowns.

Instead, we're greeted with a wall of manufactured complexity by the people whose job it is to make known unknowns into known knowns. There is nothing complex about the way CEOs like John Thain, Ed Liddy, Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack, Vikram Pandit, and Ken Lewis turned bailout billions into Wall Street bonus money -- and no justification for keeping taxpayers in the dark about the giveaways ( Vanity Fair's Michael Shnayerson breaks down the jaw-dropping and blood-boiling numbers).

Which brings us to the holy temple of unknown unknowns -- CNBC. The financial channel's Erin Burnett (Street Signs, Squawk on the Street) was on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night, suddenly seeing all kinds of complexity, nuance, and ambiguity in what can be known and not known about the economic crisis. Does the government know more than they're telling us, asked Bill.

"I don't think they know," said Burnett. "I don't think anybody knows."

 
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