Monday, October 10, 2011

No answers but maybe some hope

My sons keep asking if Obama can be re-elected. I tell them I doubt it, because the economy is doing badly and people vote with their purses, even if they don't think they do. I hope that whoever ends up as our next president has a strong grip on how to fix the country's financial problems. I don't feel all that hopeful that any of the Republican candidates has that grip. I'm not sure Obama has a particularly strong grip either. Every time I look at the unemployment numbers, I think, "Oy." But then something happens, and I think, "Okay, yes, maybe, we can start to feel hope, maybe someone out there really does know how to fix the economy!" This happened to me this morning, though I went looking for it this weekend.

Friday night, after Kol Nidre, I started reading Michael Lewis's book Boomerang. I love the way Michael Lewis writes; he turns his business reporting skills into entertaining stories about financial disasters, which isn't so easy to do. I started reading his book in bed, became immersed in his chatty description of the series of financial missteps that undid Iceland, handed the book to my husband and told him he should read it too. My husband said he'd wait 'til I was done. I can't say I blame him; though the book is a surprisingly fun read, it's actually pretty bleak.

I kept looking for hope so last night, I went to see the new Ryan Gosling/George Clooney movie, "The Ides of March." Maybe there would be some cheeky insights into the political process, on top of all that pretty beefcake. The movie starts so well and I started to hope that Ryan Gosling would run for President. And though there were great, acerbic performances by Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman who appear as chubby, dueling campaign managers, the movie ends with a melodramatic thud; the only interesting observation comes when Gosling's character tells Clooney's character that Presidents and Presidential-hopefuls can get away with lying, cheating, and starting wars, but the world gets fed up when the big boys start sleeping with interns.

Then my mother called this morning, and said that her cousin Carolyn's husband Tom had just won the Nobel Prize in economic science. Thomas J. Sargent, a professor of economics at New York University, who also teaches at Princeton, won the prize with Christopher J. Sims, a professor of economics at Princeton. The New York Times reported that the two men won the prize "for their research on the cause and effect of government policies on the broader economy, a major concern of countries still struggling to address the aftermath of the recent financial crisis...Dr. Sims said that his research was relevant for helping countries decide how to respond to the economic stagnation and decimated budgets left by the financial crisis. 'The methods that I’ve used and that Tom has developed are central for finding our way out of this mess,' he said. But asked for specific policy conclusions of his research, he responded, 'If I had a simple answer, I would have been spreading it around the world.'” Sims and Sargent will split the $1.5 million prize.

I don't know Tom Sargent. Maybe I've met him a couple of times at a Seder or family birthday party. My mother thinks he came to our wedding but we're not 100% sure. But his wife definitely came and I do know her. Carolyn is lovely and smart. Her father, Moses Greenfield, was a professor of radiological science at UCLA and my Grandpa Sam's kid brother. Knowing that Carolyn's husband is out there, doing research with his colleagues, trying to find solutions to the world's multiplying financial problems, made me think that maybe, possibly, there are people intelligent enough and motivated enough to engineer a financial solution and nudge the world's economy back to health, or something close to it.

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