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If the British Empire Wasn't Too Big to Fail, Neither is Citigroup


Enough with the sound bites. It's time to speak truth to power.


I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Honestly, I can no longer tell the difference between the two.

I want guts and brains. I'm an absolute sucker for a combination of the two. Truthfully, I'm less concerned with ideology than courage and a plan. You can raise my taxes, outlaw my guns and have my smokes. I'll still be able to afford a movie, I seldom actually shoot anything and I don't smoke, despite playing a smoker on TV. I'll give into any platform; all my loyalty requires is the fortitude to do the hard thing and the brains to at least suggest success is a possibility.

I've been watching this financial debacle from ringside seats since Round 1. I'm open to any number of solutions save every one of them offered thus far. The path we're on has felled every empire before us, from the Romans to the 1980 Soviet hockey team: We've forgotten it's possible to lose. We work backwards from the assumption of success and bicker endlessly over the style we should employ during our triumph.

The ignorance required to get where we are and remain on the path we're going is stunning. Our hubris would challenge the imagination, had we any. We've collectively accepted the notion that Citigroup (C) is "too big to fail," and we aren't being ironic. Citigroup is a bank; at least of some sort. It has a market capitalization of $20 billion, a fictional but large balance sheet and a bunch of ATMs.

For the sake of comparison:

  • In 1942, the Nazis held Europe from Finland in the North to parts of Africa in the South; they held France in the west and abutted the Soviet Union in the east. In less than 3 years they'd lost it all, including Germany, which birthed the abomination in the decades prior. They were big. They failed in a decade and a half, from soup to nuts.

  • Napoleon held all of Europe and even made the Pope declare him the Emperor of the French in 1804. A decade later he was exiled after a failed effort to add Russia to his realm.

  • The country we're wrecking between the pincers of greed and stupidity was, in effect, stolen from the British; perhaps the greatest empire of them all. Eventually, we came to celebrate this theft with a polite-sounding celebration of gluttony called Thanksgiving, a holiday which presumably thanks both the people who lived here when a lost Spaniard "discovered" the land, and the British King Edward III, whose outrageous greed so enraged the founding fathers that they chose to go to war against the only empire to actually circle the globe.

Going out on a limb without doing any actual research (something of an homage to our investment banks and those we elected to regulate them), I'd suggest that those empires and all that came before them shared the collective opinion that they were simply too big to fail. In retrospect their failures seem inevitable. The Nazis were led by a lunatic and, like Napoleon, chose to invade Russia in winter with troops outfitted in flip flops and tank tops. The British shot their bolt taking out the Nazis, then were finished off negotiating in the wake of WWII. With the natural resources of Rhode Island and a sewage system inseparable from London proper, it's remarkable they made it as far as they did.

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