Press Feed
Pages Menu

Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron is a Montreal writer and historian. He served as a member of Quebec's National Assembly from 1989 to 1994.

The Mortgaged Decade: 1998-2008 and the Long Hangover

Angelo Mozilo (left) and Alan Greenspan (right)   On July 11, 2008, Countrywide Financial, a huge California mortgage broker, bankrupted. It was one of many financial industry blowups of that disastrous year. Bear Stearns had already collapsed in March, nearly bringing down its largest Wall Street investment banking rivals, even Goldman Sachs, and by fall epidemic devastation required multi-billion dollar government bailouts. But Countrywide, and its once-admired but henceforward reviled CEO, Angelo Mozil0, perfectly incarnated the financial folly and hubris of the whole preceding ten years. Countless books and TV documentaries about the 2008 Crash have since appeared, full of explanations and accusations. The best ones have identified most of the proximate causes of the disaster, all including the proliferating 'subprime' mortgages and complex derivatives based on them. But most were deficient in providing historical context. The most dubious claim, made by many academic economists and governmental authorities, was that 'no one had seen this coming'. In reality, lots of people had, including me, with a 2003 Policy Options article, 'Risky Business and Rocket Science', about dodgy 'mathematical' models to justify many dazzling baubles. I drew on my studies in the history of science, but also on more personal experience. Ever since 1980, I had spent breaks from academia working with a financial research consulting firm. I had learned on the job, interviewing financial executives and synthesizing their opinions and plans, but also using familiarity with mathematical statistics, and doing much reading, year after year, on all aspects of the money business. I started in 1980-82 , interviewing institutional investors, the administrators of tens of billions of dollars held in Canadian trust, insurance, and pension funds; in later years, I analyzed similar information from institutions worldwide. These big investors made up the 'Buy Side' of Bay Street and Wall Street.… Read More

Two Psychological Televangelists

Steven Pinker (left) and Jordan Peterson (right) Canada has long been an incubator of 'public intellectuals' achieving international acclaim, from Marshall McLuhan to Malcolm Gladwell. Lately, two academic psychologists have cast nearly all rivals for public attention into the shade: Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist, language theorist, and popularizer of science-based humanism, and Jordan Peterson, psychoanalytical analyst of of individual abnormality and political pathology. Both have Montreal connections. Pinker was born here (1954), and studied at Dawson College and McGill, before parting for several American Ivy League appointments and settling into a Harvard professorship, Peterson, eight years younger, after growing up and beginning his college life in Alberta, took his Ph.D. at McGill, He spent some years of his own at Harvard, but returned to Canada to teach at the U. of Toronto. Both show some stigmata of their age cohort. Pinker is a baby boomer from the classic boomer years, those entering late adolescence in the great upheaval decade of 1965-75, while Peterson is from the tail end of the boom, he and others in this age group entering their university years as the radical fevers of the late 1960s, while still burning, were being accompanied by second thoughts and multiple disillusions. Ever since the 1920s, psychologists and psychoanalysts have made a great noise in the U.S. as a secular or quasi-secular new clergy. Most of the older generation were e'migre' Europeans, Freudian or near-Freudian. Throughout the century, bookstores, newsstand magazines, and even mass circulation newspapers featured regular pontifications from Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Bruno Bettelheim, Viktor Frankl, and Erik Erikson, all born around 1900. Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' invaded business courses in marketing; Bettekheim and Frankl drew on personal experience in Nazi concentration camps in theorizing about victims and their victimizers.  Erikson entranced some readers and exasperated others by… Read More

The Treacherous Escalators of Sex and War

Over the last fifty years, relations between men and women, and relations between potentially warring states, have both been going through major changes. Sexual ones have come about mainly for cultural reasons, the strategic ones due to political and technological forces, but with a metaphorical parallelism. Both developments display widespread acceptance of a series of escalating steps, based on empirical observation and rational calculation, but also obscured by a fog of unrecognized possibilities, even the hint of 'other escalators'. Past 'steps' remain part of the psychological furniture of both the sexes and the strategists. Until the late years of the tumultuous 1960s, the central preoccupation of the majority of people in sexual relations was engaging in steps (even if a lot fewer than a hundred years earlier) in 'courtship' and its successful conclusion in marriage and parenthood. Full sexual intimacy often came first, but was largely 'pre-marital'. Non-marital intercourse was acceptable for single young males, but only for unusually adventurous upper-class women who did not fear social stigma, or for prostitutes or near-prostitutes. Otherwise, a socially powerful code for 'ladies' and 'gentlemen', while often violated, almost provided the very definition of middle-class life. International relations of the same era were dominated by the experience of the two World Wars and the Cold War that followed, by the predominant power of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and by the existence of nuclear bombs, soon joined by lightning-like missile delivery. The weapons kept evolving, but as competitive threats, not for practical employment. Their awful destructiveness meant that even the most hawkish political and military leaders had to regard the escalator as one that must never be climbed to its top, with as few states as possible being allowed to set foot on the steps. This was not fully realized at first. Both the… Read More

Tesla Technophilia and Little Miss Marker’s View

Tesla, Inc. is suddenly in deep trouble, with both its cars and its stock market valuation. Elon Musk has expanded far beyond the original Tesla Motors, created by two talented electrical engineers in the 1990s. They were eventually shoved aside by Musk, although they were responsible for putting Tesla on the map with the pretty 'Roadster' sports car, its design and construction drawing partly on the small but expert English Lotus company, while the Americans provided the electric motor and associated components. But Musk, their largest investor, soon began to build a far larger operation, not just making cars, but working on steadily improving lithium batteries and other high tech products, growing in the last four years to over 37,000 employees (see the fascinating account, 'The Making of Tesla; Invention, Betrayal, and the Birth of the Roadster' , Drake Baer, Business Insider, 11.11.14). But the firm, facing many technical and financial problems throughout it history, has been hit hard since the fatal and fiery crash of one of its cars testing the self-driving 'autopilot' last May, and Musk is now dealing with other failures, including a giant recall. Replacement of new company founders by an arriving later, more ambitious and financially powerful partner is a familiar business tale. Musk held from the start a vision of a future grand market for more varied and newer products still only imagined. Still, the projected auto business was the great jewel in the crown. He continued the development of bigger and better ultra-high-performance sports cars with astronomical price tags, powerful enough to be very appealing as 'muscle cars' (the instant high torque of electrical power provides breathtaking acceleration). Such vehicles are often given free publicity by movie star purchasers: Clark Gable and Gary Cooper bought Duesenbergs in the 1930s; George Clooney bought one… Read More

The Fall of a Texas Titan

March 31 will be exactly fifty years from the day Lyndon Johnson astonished the world by declaring that he would not run again for President in the coming November election. It was nothing like an anticipated retirement. No figure in American history had so passionately wanted to become President, won so large a first mandate, shepherded into force so many laws of enduring fundamental importance, and kept such narrow and firm hold on the reins of power throughout his years in office. His physical health was poor: he had had a heart attack t 47, and died of another one only five years later, when only 64. but he still appeared indestructible. Over six feet tall, imposing and sometimes intimidating, he devoured whiskey, steaks, cigarettes, sexual liaisons, and lesser mortals. When he had chosen to send half a million American troops to Vietnam four years earlier, he had declared that he would not be the first American President to lose a war, but that was what he was doing, even if it took another seven years for Nixon to complete the messy extrication. A master of professional politics, he had failed as a war lord. The familiar summary of LBJ's rise and fall has been that he was highly successful, even 'great', in introducing domestic policies, above all in civil rights and practical gains for black Americans, drawing on a combination of his own past Congressional expertise and the wave of idealism that swept the country after Kennedy's assassination. But he had fallen from grace, due to both the problems of the war itself, and to its public opposition, both magnified in impact by television. That leaves out a great deal. Johnson's ambitious 'Great Society' domestic policies were not just unpopular with unbending Southern white supremacists; they were widely disliked… Read More
Page 1 of 2112345...1020...Last »