Paul Jacob

In the 14th century, the Black Death hit Italian shores and quickly spread. People panicked, sought causes, tried to find someone to blame.

Today, American finance goes into crisis, and the crisis quickly spreads. People (particularly politicians) panic, seek causes, someone to blame.

In medieval Europe, they rounded up the usual suspects: First the Jews, then the heretics, then witches. Not even cats were safe (according to some accounts) since, as “everyone knew,” cats were witches’ “familiars.” Members of these groups were killed in great numbers, burned at the stake, hung, thrown into bogs. It was not pleasant.

The “usual suspects” got attention in our current crisis, too. Who’s to blame? “Wall Street greed” and “unregulated markets” and the like. Hordes of Democrats said the fault lied with Republicans. I have heard no small number of Republicans return the favor.

Then, just to show how modern we all are, there were no killings. Instead, the two parties got together and threw money at the offenders.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Finding Causes
The Jews, of course, had nothing to do with causing the plague. I’m convinced witches were likewise completely innocent of the charges.

And the cats? Well, house cats may have provided Europeans with their only advantage, for cats killed the rats that nurtured and transported and transmitted the plague. By panicking, Europeans may have made their lot worse than it would otherwise have been.

You might think we would have grown up by now, would now know enough not to panic. Still, the rush to judgment has been swift . . . and as unerringly wrong-headed as a medieval conspiracy theorist.

First one major institution, then another, was taken over by the federal government. More are threatened by Bush’s new nationalization procedures. The old guard of political insiders, on both sides of the aisles, praised these moves. The only politicians to oppose the take-overs in significant number were first-term Republicans in Congress. (More evidence that incumbent expertise isn’t worth shoring up with unlimited terms in office.)

The awful truth of a burst bubble is the specter of bankruptcy. A lot of people just cannot stand the very idea. They’ll do anything to postpone it, if they can.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.