Dave McCormick’s Round-Table at the CMU Study Group

I lost my Economists for a month. They were sitting, captive, unread, in my student mailbox here at American University (where I am staying for this summer). I have been making due with what little news I can grab over lunch or dinner, through Google News or NPR. I felt so disconnected.

With this uncommon lack of up-to-date background knowledge, I walked into CMU’s Washington DC Study Group at the Hall of States last week. With Dave McCormick, the former Under Secretary for International Affairs within the United States Department of the Treasury presenting, I did not know what to expect. What I found was an affable round-table with CMU’s Heinz College graduates and current students, and an open and interesting presenter. There was also Tabbouleh and shrimp. Yumm.

Sadly, I was the only Friedman Fellow to show up. The other people who came, all from Heinz, were pretty amazing. Some were consulting, some interning, some prepping for med school. One told me about her Coro Fellowship, where she had spent 9 months consulting in different sectors, spending one month in each. She then got a scholarship to Heinz College. Cool stuff.

This round-table was about the global financial crisis, as told by a man who had been in the room for many of the decisions. To his mind, there had been 4 phases to the crisis:

  1. Sub-prime defaults getting high–lead to the stimulus of Spring 2008
  2. No-fail institutions looked like they might fail–summer 2008, huge intervention, the buck broke (people started pulling money from their super-safe money-market accounts)
  3. September 17-October 17–the month when everything changed, when everything was uncertain
  4. Right now–slowing of the downward curve, growing stability of the financial sector

To his mind, we have three reasons to be optimistic about our futures in America

  1. We take our medicine–we accept how much has gone wrong and work to fix it
  2. Our markets (China, India, Brazil) are still resilient
  3. We are still the most innovative economy in the world

The best metaphor of the night was financial regulation as fire-codes. A neighborhood must have a common fire code, because it does not matter how fire-safe my house is if the guy next door in living under a pile of sticks with a bonfire in his living-room. Financial regulation is a kind of neighborliness.

I found a lot of the abstract financial discussion a bit hard to swallow after spending my day reading affidavits about the lives of the poorest people in the world, some of them from those 3 countries which are our “still resilient” markets. The inhumanity of the numbers which structured our discussion was hard to take when I had faces to put to industries. There was a focus on abstract numbers (% unemployment, % of imports, amount of money on the dollar in money markets), with no particular consideration for the lives effected by those numbers.

Dave McCormick was a great presenter, I very much enjoyed getting an insider’s view of the financial crisis. I look forward to the next session of the Washington DC Study Group, and will see if I can drag some Friedman Fellows along.

Inspirational Quote:

Write what you want to read. The person you know best in this world is you. Listen to yourself. If you are excited by what you are writing, you have a much better chance of putting that excitement over to a reader.
Robin McKinley

1 Comment

  1. I went to school in Washington for several years and loved the city although we didn’t get to see it much – always being bussed around to things the school thought were appropriate. However, I did form some opinions of the city and wonder if they’re still true: first, it seemed to me a very separated city where groups only spoke to their own groups. Old Virginia families spoke only to each other, government workers spoke only to each other on the same level, artists spoke only to each other – and of course to potential collectors, politicians spoke only to each other and their constituants, racial groups, tourists, suburban livers, lovers, military – you name the group. When I came to town I had a party and invited all my friends who were exceedingly varied and they loved it! Why the city is so stratified I never knew. When I was staying once with the family of a friend – they were all black – I learned that they had never been to the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, museums etc. as they thought they weren’t allowed! (So of course I took them.) Another thing that bothered me a lot was that the people in the government acted like THEY had planted the crops, raised the animals, assembled the computers, etc. just because they kept adding up the numbers of the corn, clothes, pigs, etc. The numbers, the symbols, had become the products which they were very proud of and never saw a disconnect in their thinking. One other thing that bothered me was the same “second city” mentality that I’d seen in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco – which I guess is a kind of jealousy of New York that is very crippling; however, it’s crazy to meet it in a city like Washington which has such superb museums that New York should be jealous of it! I’d love to know if you see any of this – or has it changed?

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