Thursday, February 12, 2009

The 'best and the brightest" A perspective on Halberstam

The Fifties, was a great book by David Halberstam. Even though it is rather lengthy, sometimes I just re-read it on the weekend for a perspective on the generation and the historical viewpoints of the author.

On the chapter on Einstein:

"As the development of the hydrogen bomb proceeded, someone asked Albert Einstein, whose original equations had paved the way to the atomic age, how the Third World War would be fought. Einstein answered glumly that he had no idea what kind of weapons would be used in the Third World War, but he could assure the questioner that the war after that would be fought with stones."

On Vietnam :

"We thought the war in Indochina was over; the other side knew it had just begun."

Now most people know his book, The Best and the Brightest which detailed our country's involvement in Vietnam. But most people don't know where that phrase came from, even though the phrase is used by many.

With the issues regarding compensation, Wall Street is warning us that the "best and the brightest" may seek employment elsewhere, if we don't pay them what they feel they are deserved. Meredith Whitney, the high priestress of the bears laments that in this Bloomberg interveiw.

“No one goes onto Wall St. to save the world,” Whitney pointed out on Bloomberg TV.

Compensation is the motivating factor. Wall Street attracts the best and the brightest because of its compensation structure.”

And what if you take that structure away?

The best and brightest will still figure out a way to make money, and it may not be on Wall Street when those minds are needed the most."

The best and the brightest gave us CDO's, SIV's and credit default swaps, that Alan Greenspan said he couldn't figure out with his staff of 100 with their PHD's. (Maybe if Greenspan would of just looked at a prospectus in the bathtub, he wouldn't of had such a problem.)

These were Wall Street's weapons of mass destruction, that blew up our financial system, in their own mushroom cloud.

So I find it so amusing that Wall Street warns us that the best and the brightest will leave if we don't pay them!

David Halberstam, was asked in an interview in 2001, how he picked the term, "the best and the brightest" for his great book on Vietnam.

His reply:

The phrase referred to President John F. Kennedy's "whiz kids" – leaders of industry and academia brought into his administration – whom Halberstam characterized as arrogantly insisting on "brilliant policies that defied common sense" in Vietnam, often against the advice of career US Department of State employees.

So how fitting is it, that Wall Street uses the term "the best and the brightest" for themselves!

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