Paul Greenberg

Creditanstalt. Remember the name.

But first a family story:

He was an ambitious young man in the Roaring Twenties, fresh out of the University of Texas where he'd been, as they used to say, well-liked. And the young man deserved to be: He had a gift for numbers and friendship.

Eager to help, he knew everybody on campus and 'most everybody knew him. He not only had a flivver and a flapper but a whole marching band. As drum major, complete with baton and high plumed hat, he'd led the Longhorn band into the then new Texas Stadium (and would return 50 years later to lead it into the newer one). Robert Preston in "The Music Man" had nothing on young Robert E. Levy of little Marlin, Tex.

The young man was going places -- everyone said so -- and the place to go was Wall Street. For it was the best of times and, as always in the best of times, they would never end. Everyone said so. Things would just get better and better. Everything that rises would no longer fall; they would just keep rising.

This was the New Era. Man had mastered the economy, and the Roaring Twenties would just go on roaring. The way the New Paradigm was going to do in the 1990s. The business cycle was as dead as the medieval idea of the Just Price; boom would never lead to bust again. It was a new world with a new physics. The law of (fiscal) gravity had been repealed.

And if New York was the place to go, 1929 was the year to go there. Ain't we got fun? There was an electricity in the air, the kind that made The Great Gatsby great. The young man had friends up there and his sweetheart wasn't far away at Goucher. Even as an old man, he would remember being impressed by her limousine and chauffeur, for she was a Texas heiress. At least before the Crash changed everything.

. .

One of his first visits in the big city was to the Polo Grounds to see John J. McGraw, legendary manager of the Giants. The team spent spring training every year at the hotel the young man's family ran in Marlin, where its stars could shape up and dry out for the coming season. (The ballplayers would entertain themselves by shooting out the light bulbs that spelled out the hotel's name on its outsized marquee.) Once in New York, the young man sent his card to Mr. McGraw, and was invited to watch the game from the dug-out.

. .

Talk about high cotton. Those were the days, my friend, they thought they'd never end. To quote the then famed economist Irving Fisher, the Alan Greenspan/Ben Bernanke of his prosperous day, "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.