As one of the now-discredited wizards, former CEO of Citigroup Chuck Prince, put it in an interview with the Financial Times: "When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you got to get up and dance. We're still dancing." He said that in July 2007. He was off the dance floor by early November. There was a time when such insouciance about excess "liquidity" would be unthinkable for a responsible Wall Street banker. Yet as I say, in recent years there have not been a lot of responsible officers in the Wall Street investment houses, and those who were responsible were not listened to.
On Wall Street, in London, and wherever else the madness took hold, huge salaries and bonuses were heaved around, even after the bubble had burst and the chain letter was seen for what it was. Now my worry is that the rogues of Wall Street will be replaced by the rogues of Washington. A fundamental problem of our time is a widespread insouciance to prudent standards. Such standards would have restrained the opportunists who danced when they should have practiced due diligence. Now let us hope the politicians will return to prudent standards in fashioning their resolution of the financial crisis. Thus far, there is little reason for optimism.
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