Voodoo & Wall Street
About the matter of the voodoo doll that supposedly did in Olympic track star Lauryn Williams at the XXIX Summer Olympiad in Beijing: Anchor for the U.S. team in the 4 x 100-meter relay, Williams attributed her botched baton exchange with Torri Edwards to the likelihood that someone had hammered nails into a wooden doll and ordered up disaster for her relay performance. “The stick had a mind of its own. …Maybe someone has a voodoo doll of me,” Williams said in a globally televised interview after the race.
That the stick “had a mind of its own” sounds very much like the argument made by Shai Waisman, the lawyer who represented Lehman Brothers in its bankruptcy hearing. Waisman blamed the downfall of Lehman, the country’s fourth largest investment bank, on a “chain reaction” of events largely beyond the bank’s control. “Lehman operated in an extremely unfavorable business environment,” he said.
The Beijing Games was the second Olympics in which Williams was involved in a flubbed relay handoff. In the same event in Greece four years ago, she ran out of the exchange zone on the handoff from Marion Jones. Some took her voodoo doll comment as a swipe at Jamaica, whose team ran away with the relay gold and whose runners were breaking records all over the track and field events — the Caribbean has long been designated a hotbed of voodoo. I, too, bristled at Williams’s remark, but I relented when she finally got to the fundamentals of success: “Jamaica brought their ‘A’ game. Maybe I left mine back in the suitcase,” she said.
The last time voodoo was put on such a prominent stage was during the 1980 presidential primaries, when then-candidate George H.W. Bush, father of the sitting president, accused his opponent, Ronald Regan, of spouting “voodoo economics.” Reagan pledged to cut taxes while increasing defense spending. Bush jeered that lower taxes and higher spending don’t mix. Reagan won the election, ushering in an era of deregulation to the jubilation of Wall Street.
No one has applied the term “voodoo” to Wall Street’s meltdown in September, when the U.S. government did the unthinkable in capitalism and effectively nationalized American Insurance Group in an attempt to stem the worst bloodletting since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But Waisman’s “chain reaction” reasoning did just that. So did Washingtonpost.com Op-Ed columnist Harold Meyerson’s contention in his column “Wall Street’s Just Deserts.”
The notions of chain reaction and of the boomerang effect of one’s actions are the essence of voodoo. Nothing, voodoo practitioners believe, has a life of its own. In a universe in which everything is connected, what you do unto another, you literally do to yourself because you are connected to that other.
Wall Street, Meyerson wrote, turned its back on America by directing “trillions into new and ever more dubious credit instruments, which yielded massive profits for Wall Streeters and their high-flying investors, and put chump change into efforts to improve, to take just one example, American transportation.” Airports, bridges and roads are decaying; rural wind-power facilities cannot light cities because our electrical grid has not been expanded; New Orleans has not been rebuilt, and productive activity within the United States has ceased to be the prime target of investment, he lamented. Some may also say that AIG, the country’s largest insurer, which reputedly got its start insuring opium sales to China, got its just deserts. But that’s just voodoo talk.