Last night PBS aired the first installment of a new Frontline documentary called "Money, Power, & Wall Street," which was about, as you might imagine, that whole big ugly messy thing that happened in the financial sector a few years ago. It was one of those "good medicine" installments of PBS' regularly fascinating series, something a bit clinically educational but good for you, and easy enough to swallow.
Terms like "credit derivatives" and "credit default swap" have been making non-finance types' heads (and some finance folks' heads too) spin for years now, theoretical, labyrinthine sleights of hand that they are. Last night's documentary did a good job of explaining these destructive viruses without becoming an alienating technical schematic. It put a human face on the concepts, interviewing people who were tangentially or directly responsible for creating these risky entities, including Terri Duhon, who'd been one of the young J.P. Morgan wunderkinds who basically invented the credit derivatives idea while on some sort of corporate retreat in the '90s. She's now rueful and head-shaking about what her invention wrought, but like most people interviewed so far, she gently shifts the real weight of the blame elsewhere. (Most of the people interviewed always seem to have known in a vague sense that something was wrong, because they're not dumb you see, but also to not have known in any way that would have allowed them to do anything about it. Helpless bystanders all.)