It is time to wallow in schadenfreude, chemical nation (to riff, with some feeling of shame, off of Stephen Colbert). Take this moment, and it may be a fleeting one, to look with mocking nods at the financial masters of the universe. And as you look at them, don’t forget to add a great big thank you.
You see, the suits on Wall Street have done for the chemical enterprise what the chemical enterprise has been unable to do for itself for the past half-century. In a feat that surely has those finely educated and chronically-hyperpaid financial wizards wide-eyed with astonishment, they have managed to wrest from the chemical enterprise an unwanted burden that for so long it practically owned—the adjective “toxic.”
All it took to achieve this lexical hand-off, or at least a co-ownership deal, was a bacchanal of greed, access to everybody else’s money, uncritical faith in risk-assessing algorithms, and hyena-like zeal to get the financially unschooled masses to invest and borrow more than they ever could have responsibly hoped to afford. The result: a financial Love Canal of global proportions.
Now the word that most often follows “toxic”—whether it be written in a newspaper article, spoken in a radio report, or typed in a blog—is “assets.” “Toxic assets.” “Toxic assets.” "Toxic assets." The phrase is on everyone’s lips. For the moment, the klieg light has left “toxic chemicals” on a dark part of the stage because it is beaming on “toxic assets.” For a feel-good moment, try this: in series, type “toxic waste,” “toxic chemicals,” and “toxic assets,” into the great oracle, Google. When I did that, the hit counter at the top of the results page indicated 2,230,000; 3,540,000, and a whopping 12,000,000, respectively.
Now is the time, chemical nation, to be irrationally exuberant. Go ahead, dance in the street while yelling "TOXIC ASSETS. TOXIC ASSETS." Do it now. The klieg light’s beam is bound to shift again.