Why Michael Lewis Annoys the Bejeepers out of Me
Michael Lewis is the preeminent financial journalist of our age. In many ways, Michael Lewis is the only financial journalist of our age. No other author on finance is so widely read. His articles are widely taken as something like the conventional wisdom. This is a great tragedy, as, despite the fact that Michael Lewis is unarguably a great writer, he’s a terrible journalist. Reading a Michael Lewis article on finance is much like watching the evening news. It gives you the impression that you’re well informed, but in reality, you’ve been deceived by noise.
Consider his latest Vanity Fair missive. Michael Lewis attempts to get to the bottom of the German side of the financial crisis. This is an interesting and tremendously important subject. Why? Because Germans didn’t have a financial crisis. This, despite the fact that the German Landesbanks were the counterparties in a good fraction of the printing of shitty bonds (aka, Germans own a lot of the worthless bonds printed up by American banks). This despite the fact that the Germans own a bunch of shitty Greek government paper. This despite the fact that Germany was incinerated and invaded in WW-2, and half her territory and a third of her population incarcerated under communism until 1989. Yet, Germany is a prosperous and pleasant nation to live in; one of the best in the world. Germany manages to have lower unemployment than the US, despite all their unions and socialistic regulations for hiring and firing: laws which Harvard economist ding a lings will insist would be the ruination of the American economy. How did the Germans manage this?
Michael Lewis doesn’t know; he’s too busy making turd jokes. I’m not exaggerating. Some jackass gave him Alan Dundes’ imbecilic, “Life is a Chicken Coop Ladder.” This is a book documenting alleged German folklore surrounding scatology, and drawing the conclusion that Germans are prone to killing Jews because of inadequate toilet training. If you think that’s some kind of joke: it isn’t; the guy who wrote it is completely serious. The local Kraut-hating bigot who insisted I read it was serious as well. Lewis takes it at face value also, and uses it as an excuse to regale us with Teutonic turd humor for a significant fraction of the essay.
Lewis’ article is some funny and well written bigotry, including the obligatory Nazi jokes all English speaking writers are required to make when discussing German culture. Of course, if he did an article on some cannibalistic African hell hole in the same “light hearted” spirit, he’d be hounded by the Southern Poverty Law Center for the rest of his life as an evil cousin-fucking racist. Not that there is anything wrong with that: some of my best friends and all that. I’m just pointing it out.
Lewis has, according to his report, spent a grand total of about a week of his adult life in Germany. His report, like the rest of the VF roadtrip series, is an adolescent travel story: some ethnic stereotypes, with some bad financial analysis thrown in. It’s true, the Landesbanks were royally ass-raped by shady American bankers. It’s also true that Germans tend to be gullible and trust in authorities, such as the American credit rating agencies. This is a racial characteristic of virtually all Germans I have known; German-American or straight from the tap. It is also true that Germans tend to be orderly people with a deep seated thirst for justice, equity and social harmony. I don’t think this has anything to do with poop, and I don’t think Germans have any more interest in turds or mud wrestling than anybody else. The real story of Germany is their banking systems is awesome, despite the fact that the actual banks were run by retards (rather than thieves), and their economy is doing really well. Somehow the great journalist finds it more interesting making poop jokes, rather than getting to the bottom of this. Why do the Germans do so well, despite their getting the wrong end of the financial disaster?
The last Lewis article I read was about Iceland. Again, he gives a fair, if bigoted characterization of Icelanders: fearless risk takers who belong on fishing boats or strongman contests rather than trading floors. No real argument from me on that one: Icelanders are brave men. His silly prescription to heal the Icelandic economy? Let Icelandic feminists run their banks. I’ve got a better idea: why not let Germans run their banks? Germans have a longer track record, and have unarguably contributed more to banking, human civilization and the ordering thereof than all the feminists in all nations in all of human history.
The important story from Iceland, he missed completely: they told the EU and the world financial system to eat shit, and are actually better off for it. It was obvious they were going to, but Lewis didn’t raise the possibility in his 2009 article, or any subsequent ones. The other real story of the Iceland tragedy: there are actual villains, and they’re not brave honest-faced Icelandic fishermen. Lewis is too chicken shit to name them (he could have; I’m pretty sure wikileaks did). I’ll name them: the Tchenguiz Brothers -a couple of Iraqi guys from the Anti-Semitic central casting department who ripped Kaupthing off to the tune of 2 Billion dollars, and the fat bag of fecal debris who let them get away with it: Sigurdur Einarsson.
Lewis’ assertions about the alleged German love of turds doesn’t even pass the sniff test. He claims the Germans have the only toilet museum in the world? Well, I know of one in South Korea off the top of my head. Feeding the phrase into google nets one in New Delhi, one in Massachusetts, one in Texas, one in Ukraine, one in Great Britain and at least one on the goddamned internet. Who checks Lewis’ facts? My editor would shit on me from a tremendous height for making such an unsubstantiated remark, and he’s not even a little bit German. Similarly, Lewis got an assertion about Irish parliamentary proceedings wrong too: mostly because it got in the way of a good racial stereotype about my lazy, potato-eating, Bog Negro cousins. If he can’t get crappy little facts like this right … why should anyone believe him about anything else?
It’s difficult to resist mentioning Lewis the prophet. The way he runs around unexplaining things, you’d think he predicted our present financial predicament. He seems to claim to: Liars Poker was his prediction, dontcha know. While it was a great book, his memory is faulty. The internet is forever, or so I am told. Right before the poop hit the prop in 2007, Lewis was making farty noises at the heavy hitters at Davos who were warning of immanent dangers, calling them, “wimps, ninnies and pointless skeptics.” I owe Janet Tavakoli an apology: she was right about the guy. I’ll go out on a limb as a forecaster: his assertion that the Germans will continue to pay for lazy Greeks and other lazy Southern Europeans is dead wrong. I haven’t been to Germany in over a decade, excepting for airport fly throughs, and I know that for a fact.
Michael Lewis is part of the establishment. His position in the financial community is based on celebrity and patronage rather than actually knowing anything. The man lives in Berkeley for crying out loud. If you want to really understand what is going on in the world, you’re not going to get anything out of listening to a perfumed prince of the media-banking-government complex. No, I don’t think Lewis is in on any conspiracies; I just think it’s easier and more comfortable for him to be funny and misleading than right.