Sometimes certain moments are too epic to easily forget. During last week’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings — intended to dissect the causes for the recent financial crisis — Phil Angelides posed this question to Goldman’s chief executive Lloyd Blankfein:
“How do you go to the rating agencies and persuade them to give these subprime mortgage-related securities the highest ratings, at the same time as you have internal information that leads you to believe that in fact those securities may fail?”
I knew it was coming … I just didn’t know when. It didn’t take long … there it was, finally, from JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon. The old, the tired, the inevitable … “Mistakes were made.”
Cowardly? Yes. Substantive? No.
In fact, this statement, ubiquitous as it may be these days, does not qualify as:
- A statement of accountability;
- An admission of guilt;
- An apology;
- A defensive argument; or,
- A commitment to action.
This poor excuse for an excuse leaves nothing for a “counterparty” to respond to. It’s as if “mistakes” suddenly appeared out of nowhere, like neutrinos — not as a result of any agency or agent, and probably as mystifying as the beginnings of the universe.
The “Mistakes were made” argument is just a step above that other crafty, slice-and-dice excuse: “We’re all to blame.” (Thanks for the promotion, btw, but I really don’t think I had a hand in the financial crisis, other than providing lint-sized bits of capital for speculation.)
Even more maddening, this remark seems to suggest that any mistakes that “were made” were innocent in nature and immune from any under-handed intent. (And we all know how hard it is to prove intent.)
Basically, Dimon’s excuse is roughly equivalent to that other old standby: “Sh*t happens.”
If it were up to me, the “mistakes were made” argument would be outlawed from public discourse. But then again, it’s the perfect hedge.
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