Splain it to me

Drop everything and go listen to the latest This American Life, a followup to its brilliant Giant Pool of Money show, which explains the bailout and the bigger mess we’re in better than I’ve heard or read anywhere. Alex Blumberg, Adam Davidson, and Ira Glass have done it again — brillliant once more.

But first, you might want to lock away your belt, shoelaces, and for that matter, the cord to your iPhone headset. But you’ve probably taken those suicide-watch precautions already today given the apocalyptic, 10,000-busting day on Wall Street. Well, if you listen to the show you’ll at least understand better why we’re so fucked.

It turns out that the problem isn’t the giant pool of money. It’s the giant pool of debt. And I don’t mean our debt, legitimate debt used to buy houses and cars and finance startups and roads and send kids to college. I mean fake debt. Davidson and Blumberg explain the debt swap market and how it became an utterly unregulated $60 trillion marketplace — that’s more, they say, than all the money in all the stock markets in the world — built on no collateral or real value. It’s leverage, they call it. Ponzi scheme is another way (my way) to look at it. Giant pool of nothing is another way. Big, fat, fucking lie is another. The problem, as they explain better than I can, is that people made bets with no money in their pocket and now those losing bets are being called but we’re the ones getting kneecapped.

What became clear is that this is far bigger than bad mortgages. Those were just the pawns in a much more dangerous game. If economics correspondent Davidson is scared, so should we be. It’s worse than we thought, bigger than we thought. And it looks as if everyone on Wall Street listened to the show this morning.