A woman gets into her car, and waves at her husband, who is crossing in front of the car. Pressing the pedal to the ground, she puts it into gear . . . and steams forward at full speed, crushing him against the wall of the garage.
Is she a villain? It rather depends, doesn't it?
Scenario #1: she's angry because she found out he had an affair, and decided to kill him "by accident" for the insurance. Scenario #2: she thought she was stepping on the brake, and stepped on the gas instead. The former is a crime, the latter a tragedy. But you can't divine which simply by knowing that something terrible happened.
So I confess I'm slightly puzzled that Barry Ritholtz is puzzled by my assertion that "financial crises don't offer villains":
I don't really get Megan McArdle when she makes a statement such as the one above. It was in an article critiquing Matt Taibbi and defending Goldman Sachs.
Um, Megan, I am going to have to beg to differ with you. There were many, many identifiable villains who through their own action and inaction, helped create the crisis. There were people who remained slavishly devoted to an outmoded and disproven ideology, which led them to decisions that were indefendable. Some people engaged in utter recklessness when it came to risk management, or such gross irresponsibility that they are not merely morally culpable, but legally also. Then there are those regulators who gave the corporate interests they supervised pretty much everything they asked for. And of course, the people simply trying to grab a free lunch contributed mightily to the collapse.
Ritholtz is not, in many of these cases, describing villainy. He is describing "being wrong", which is not a crime, thank God. Villainy involves people who know, or should have known, that what they were doing was likely to lead to the awful results.