Time magazine is to blame for the financial crisis


A couple of weeks ago Time magazine published a "far-from-exhaustive list" of twelve people you could blame for the financial crisis. I see that Time has now published a list of 25 people you can blame for the crisis, so perhaps this can be considered exhaustive (not to mention exhausting).

These projects are easy to explain, since they combine two of journalism's favorite tropes: (1) indignation, and (2) lists. But they are harder to justify. A healthy portion of the Time list is a mishmash of bit players (Home & Garden Television's Burton Jablin?) and non sequiturs. Sure, Bernie Madoff seems like a terrible guy and we'd all like to get in our kicks. But blaming the financial crisis on him gets the causality exactly backwards: he was discovered because of the crisis, not the cause of it. And anyway, offering a big mushy list (there is no sense of scale) where readers can vote on the worst offenders seems to miss the basic point of journalism -- to provide information, not an outlet for revenge fantasies.

But the ever-widening circle of blame (Justin Fox says the magazine's original goal was 75 people, and seems grateful to have avoided that chore) got me thinking about others Time might blame for the crisis. Like ... Time magazine. It took about 30 seconds of googling to dig up a Time cover story called "Home $weet Home." The S is actually dollar sign on the cover. Reading the piece is like finding an old crate of wine that's turned to vinegar. After noting that some economists "warn of a bubble in home prices," the author asks: "But who wants to listen to buzz-kill talk?" Who indeed? Especially when, as Time says, "Your house is now your piggy bank, ATM and 401(k)."

And at least one the people Time puts on its list of 25 responsible agents -- David Learah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors -- is quoted unskeptically in the piece:

Lereah says the run-up in house prices is not built on the kind of hot air that promised that theglobe.com would be the next General Electric. Rather, he says, it is based on fundamentals that include tight housing supply--especially in places where it is tough or expensive to build, like New York City and San Francisco--such population factors as immigration, foreign buyers (snapping up properties cheap because of a weak dollar) and baby boomers' demand for second homes. "It's the demographics, stupid," he says.

What's that line about casting the first stone?

time magazine cover.jpg

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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