I'm listening to Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz No. 1", something of concert and piano competition standard and not really my favorite Liszt, but it makes a very apt soundtrack for the extraordinary events on Wall Street this week.
There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust pass by, and Mephistopheles induces Faust to enter and take part in the festivities. Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a full-blooded village beauty in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the fiddle grow softer and softer, and the nightingale warbles his love-laden song
This is the program note to the piano piece, and substitute Wall Street for Faust and greed for the Devil (is there really any difference?) and you have just about got it. The nightingale that steps in to soothe us – well, that is the U.S. Government and the 500 billion to 1 trillion dollars of
its our money.
Well, we'll see next week if the song is still sweet. It's clear even now that we've lived through a week of financial upheaval that rivals that of 1929, although, so far, with a happier outcome. No mass panic, people jumping out of skyscrapers and ashen-faced acknowledgements of ruin.
Personally, I think this bailout should have come months ago, but, as in the case of the addict who does not realise the extent of his condition until he or she reaches rock-bottom, perhaps such upheaval was necessary first. Unexpected things are going to continue to happen, but I sense that this was indeed the bottom. The government saw the abyss up close and chose to act. Better that by far than the alternative (although already the dedicated free marketeers are upset – well, they have reason to be, the housing finance industry in the U.S. has been almost wholly nationalized now). That a Republican administration should be behind this is simply boggling, but, as always, political expediency – not to mention being backed completely into a corner – wins out whatever the ideology in the end.