The Death of E.Z. Money

Posted by on 07/08/10 in America, Debt, Government, History, Markets, Risk

It is sobering to write an obituary, particularly for someone who has touched many of us so deeply, who has become an integral part of our lives, and who in passing leaves a void impossible to fill. One feels a responsibility to honor the departed, yet to do so honestly, to recognize that legacies are complex and subject to varied interpretation by survivors.

The obituary below has not yet been published; indeed, the actual death has not been formally confirmed. However, the subject of our obituary has not been seen in public in recent months, has failed to respond to requests for interviews, and has resisted the probing of the most ardent investigators. We share this draft with you today. Perhaps if our subject reads of his demise, he will dare to inform us that he is alive and well. Should he remain silent, then perhaps we are simply confirming a loss that has already impacted us all.

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E.Z. Money
1942 – 2010(?)

“E.Z. Money was born in 1942 in Washington DC to loving but demanding parents. His mother had struggled through the Dust Bowl, sold apples on the streets of New York City, and suffered great losses from bank failures and stock market crashes. Dad was fighting fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan, and lacked the power of either muscle or will to put up an adequate fight.

“This tumultuous birth has been obscured by history because of E.Z.’s immediate, dramatic influence on his parents. By 1945, E.Z. had brought them great calm, easing their struggles. He remained quiet and unpretentious through the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, during these early years, E.Z. was overshadowed by his cousin, G.D.P., whose growth and vitality made E.Z. seem irrelevant. G.D.P. took credit for many of E.Z.’s accomplishments from the rebuilding of Europe to the growth of the military, from building out the highway system to financing the early years of Johnson’s Great Society.

“But E.Z. was not waiting in vain. By the early 1970’s he had begun to find his calling, playing a powerful role in underwriting the War in Vietnam and fighting the good fight against OPEC and spiraling inflation. Nonetheless, E.Z. still bore the burden of his shameful birth. Most Americans weren’t comfortable with E.Z., feeling that he didn’t really represent the nation’s core values or vision of itself. That disdain, however, was about to change.

“The 1980s invited E.Z. to step more boldly into the limelight. E.Z. reconciled with his cousin, G.D.P. They made a pact: they would support each other’s growth, collaborating to usher in an age of economic prosperity never before experienced by any society in any age. It worked. Interest rates and inflation were subdued, jobs created, technologies invented, and all without meaningful complaint from the country that made E.Z. welcome. Of course, a new generation was ascending the corporate and political power structure, a generation that had known E.Z. from their earliest years. While the previous generation recalled life without E.Z., their children did not. And who could complain, so long as E.Z. and G.D.P. blazed a new path of material wealth.

“By the 1990’s, E.Z. had fully come into his own, spawning a whole network of associates and sycophants. New friends such as hedge funds and private equity funds clamored for E.Z.’s attention, using him to forge a new industry of financial innovation. They secured great wealth for themselves and increased influence for E.Z. The modest days of the 50s and 60s had come to seem quaint. There was no going back.

“E.Z. also proved to be an able politician, thriving regardless of which party dominated Congress or sat in the White House. While a few skeptics complained about the access E.Z. had to policy makers and corporate executives, most were content to let it go without complaint. E.Z. and G.D.P. had forged a pact that had become ingrained in the minds of economists, policy makers, and even consumers—E.Z. would make G.D.P.’s growth possible, while G.D.P.’s growth would take care of E.Z. It was the perfect arrangement. Whether operating at the level of municipalities, corporations, or families, their partnership was broadly embraced.

“As E.Z. aged however, cracks began to appear. E.Z. was as confident as ever and certainly in as much demand, but he struggled to maintain the façade of dominance. In 1998, E.Z. was accused of being behind the Russian Debt Crisis and associated failure of Long-Term Capital, an American hedge fund. He was pegged with exacerbating the NASDAQ bubble in the late 1990’s, initiating the telecom debt crisis of 2002, and creating a climate that facilitated accounting frauds at Enron and WorldCom.

“But it was the housing crisis that started in 2007 and continues today that really called into question E.Z.’s legacy. No longer does conventional wisdom stand by E.Z. or support his pact with G.D.P. Somewhere along the line, that pact broke down and most consumers and voters know it or at least sense it. Some accuse E.Z.’s handlers of masking the breakup of his partnership with G.D.P. even as their separation intensified. Some policy makers laud E.Z. and sing his praises, though they may do so because they don’t know who else to promote. For so long, G.D.P. and E.Z. were a team; it is hard for many to imagine one without the other.

“Today, we say goodbye to this influential American, appreciative for what he helped create and wary about imagining life without him.

“Mr. Money is survived by his parents and his aging cousin, all of whom now spend their time traveling the globe. Contributions in Mr. Money’s name can be made to the Department of the Treasury, attn: debt relief.”

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The public is not certain if E.Z. Money truly has died. Many key decision makers are still expecting E.Z. to rejoin G.D.P. and prove that their pact retains its former power and influence. There are many constituencies that still think the heady days of the 80s and 90s are “normal” and eagerly await their return.

Personally, we wonder if E.Z. Money really ever existed. After all, his is a life story that seems more a work of fiction: Born of violent parents, overshadowed by a domineering cousin, dismissed and disrespected, embraced as a savior, then cast again into disdain, now seeking redemption.

Perhaps E.Z. Money has really been nothing more than a phantom of our imaginations, someone we have created because we needed him to be real. He gave us confidence and hope, made us believe that literally anything was possible, and made it all seem so easy. Whether real or imagined, alive or dead, a gift or a curse, E.Z. Money will be missed.