BOSTON — Laughter is the ultimate elixir. But can the euro zone crisis — which is putting millions out of work, escalating suicide rates and destroying trillions in wealth — really be funny?
Well, yes, on the Daily Show.
Last night Jon Stewart interviewed premier financial journalist Michael Lewis, author of Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World. The conceit of the book: to visit Europe's basket case economies and try to determine what went wrong. It currently ranks #4 on Amazon's best seller list.
What did he find? Lewis says everywhere he went there was a common cause: "A pile of money was left in a dark room and people were left to do whatever they wanted with it. Everyone faced the same temptation. The banks were willing to lend to anyone. But what they wanted to do was so different from place to place." The money he says, was prism through which to view each society... and "each says something about what went on here."
Stewart observed, In Greece: the state destroyed the banks. In Iceland the banks destroyed the state. In Ireland, "it's like, as if they were expecting this."
Lewis: "the Irish have a talent for suffering. They were waiting for this [financial crisis]. Anyone who's been in a room full of Irish people [knows] the status goes to the one who's had the worst thing happen to him recently."
Lewis talks about how the way to ahead as a Greek tax collector is to NOT collect taxes. He also offers grim parallels between Europe and what might happen next with the debt problems in California, where "people want public services but they don't want to pay for them," and thanks to direct democracy, they get their way.
But the best material comes when Lewis describes how Icelandic fishermen became currency traders overnight, and the country's president traveled the world telling everyone that his compatriots have a natural talent as hedge fund managers. "Then they lost $100 billion." What came next? The women took over. "They have the first lesbian head of state... the women said, 'you don't know what you're doing. They had realization of how dangerous men are with money."
Could this be the silver lining to the euro crisis, a rise of women leaders?
Here's are the clips:
And part II: