The window was a lot harder to get open than I expected. I guess they aren’t really designed to be opened, but they do open if you pull hard enough. The air felt good; fresher higher up than on the lower floors. And I could see the cityscape below, half hidden in morning mist. It was going to be a beautiful day.
My office was private, not one of the cubicles most of the employees occupied, like rows of Dilberts enjoying only partial privacy. I had earned my space by bringing in the numbers. I had worked my way up from the top mortgage closer to an aggregator of mortgages. I no longer had to sell mortgages to individuals, I now packaged blocks of mortgage paper for securitization so they could in turn be sold to investors. Institutions, mutual funds, hedge funds, individuals, everybody bought this stuff because it was supposed to be safe. Most of it was government agency backed, so the retail guys found it easy to sell, telling the customers it was guaranteed or “as good as guaranteed” by the government. What could go wrong, right?
Something went wrong. This morning, as my freshly squeezed orange juice trickled down my throat, I read about the failure of yet another major investment bank. It was mine; the one I work for. The orange juice seemed bitter this morning. I didn’t have to read much farther to know the rest of the story. It was amazing how I thought I was somehow all alone, doing the work I had been doing for the last seven years, toiling away putting all kinds of folks into houses and condos and development property, thinking I was an inconsequential player in an obscure role. Turns out I was but one of tens of thousands of guys and gals just like myself, making a very good living churning out mortgage paper by the ton. Looking back, I can easily see how things went wrong. Of course we were making far too much money. That’s why we ignored so many little warning flags. Everyone was making too much money and we all wanted to believe it was okay. At every level, players were bending the rules, making it ever easier to issue more paper, earn more commissions. A self-generating, self-perpetuating mythology took control. Of course it was only right that everyone should have their own house, their own home. That was a basic human right. So everyone needed a mortgage. Our job was to make sure that everyone had a mortgage and if there was a problem, our job was to find a way around the problem. Appraisal too low; no problem, we got an appraiser to raise it. Income to low? No income at all? Find a mortgage that doesn’t require any proof of income. Whatever the challenge, we were able to get it done. It seems so incredible now. Of course it all had to end badly; I can see that now. So many of those mortgages are now foreclosures and people are…out in the streets or who knows where. The packaged loans are mostly worthless and the buyers are big-time losers. Tens of thousands of people are out of jobs. And now I am too. My house…my huge house…will be taken away. My trophy wife and my kids will hate me. My Beemer will be taken back. But they will have to deal with it. I can see the ants below are looking more like people real fast. I hope they don’t mind that I couldn’t close the window on the way out.