(24) As Seen on TV

Someone asked me the other day if I watch the HBO series Treme. I've heard about the show and I know that it's set in the Treme public housing projects in New Orleans. That same someone said that Treme (the show) was like The Wire, a cable TV show set in the projects of Baltimore, Maryland. While I've watched The Wire, I don't really have the desire to watch Treme. These types of shows, in their attempt to entertain us with their gritty scenes of reality, fall short of telling a complete and honest story.

As an outsider to the Calliope, I came to see the community as a complex system that was highly organized and tightly knit. Even though crime statistics for drug selling, violence, prostitution, robberies, and so forth, were quite high, the community itself did not seem to see itself as a moral failure. What we as outsiders would deem illegal, immoral or even pathological activities, were viewed by insiders as the the means of doing business, part of the Calliope's economic model if you will. Frankly, there weren't a whole lot of other options for earning a living. Transportation in and out of the neighborhood itself was hard to come by and the education system was awful.

But wrong is wrong, right? That depends on how you look at wrong. To use current criminal activity as an example, we have a community of bankers and brokers on Wall Street who bundled and sold real estate mortgages as high grade, low risk investment tools that they knew were worthless. This behavior initiated the domino effect of the mortgage crisis, the creation of billions of dollars of bad loans, Americans losing their homes to foreclosure, the collapse of businesses, and devaluation of pension accounts. There is some talk of these activities being immoral and illegal. But, at least for now, Wall Street continues with business as usual. The Wall Street traders who created the economic crisis, and their chiefs, are still employed for the most part, profitably so. We haven't heard about criminal convictions of these individuals, much less stories of prisons overfilling with investment bankers. In fact, Wall Street had a highly profitable year in 2009, taking profitable positions against the stock crash after the 2008 financial crisis.

I find it interesting that as a nation, our tolerance for crime based on greed is a lot higher than for crime driven by survival. Maybe the latter just makes for better TV.


  1. "...tolerance for crime based on greed is a lot higher than for crime driven by survival."

    I've seen the same attitude even in churches. Look at how the Kennedy's are worshipped; when the reality is that "Old Joe" was merely a cohort of people like Al Capone, but who never got caught. You know the old saying, "Nothing succeeds like success!"

    Also, when it comes to banking and real estate, we have to remember that Bill Clinton forced the banks to give loans to people who would never have otherwise qualified, in the name of "equality." The results should have been expected; government ultimately ruins any business that it tries to control.

  2. @Gorges Interesting first point. Not sure I agree with the second. Does gov't regulation ruin business or do high risk taking, sometimes unethical individuals/companies who quickly learn how to get around that system? To quote you: "Folks with money or imagination will always find some way to beat the system." I don't think gov't has done a great job of staying one step ahead of these people.

  3. Unethical people both in the private sector and in government create most of the problems suffered by society. The trouble is that government, in its supposed desire to be fair, causes as much harm to the innocent as to the guilty. As citizens, we can ultimately CHOOSE who we do business with, but we are FORCED to honor government controls, no matter how counter-productive. Jefferson said it best when he told us that "He governs best, who governs least." (Or something like that.)

  4. Treme isn't a remake of The Wire; it's milieu is the NOLA music community. Terrific music and excellent character development. I hope you give it a chance.

    "we have to remember that Bill Clinton forced the banks to give loans to people who would never have otherwise qualified"

    Clinton and Bush both had policies of increasing home ownership. But the majority of the holdings of Freddie and Fannie were in traditional conforming mortgages. Regulations limited the extent to which either could purchase subprime mortgages, which were the major contributor to the housing bubble's growth and bursting.

    As such Fannie and Freddie had little to do with the collapse of the financial markets, which created a housing bubble built around derivatives, credit swaps, junk bonds, and bundling of unsecured subprime mortgages.

    Freddie and Fannie are not guilt-free and had no business getting into junk bonds or subprimes at akk, but they hardly created the bubble and had little or no impact on the burst. But in terms of impact on the Wall St collapse, they were a sideshow. Wall St practices and the complicity of the federal government in abdicating its regulatory responsibilities caused the collapse.