Grade of "F" for Lowenstein's Times Essay on Merkin and Madoff

Now I claim no expertise in money matters. But I have read and graded 20,000+ student essays in the liberal arts over the years.

Had this essay, that was published in the Times, been one of them it would have received an F as I will explain below the excerpt.
The Way We Live Now: Go Long

In October, Columbia University’s business school honored its most famous investing guru, Benjamin Graham, with a series of panel discussions loosely connected to the market crash, which was then accelerating. The panelists, of which I was one, had contributed to an updated version of Graham’s 1930s textbook, whose signature themes are caution, avoidance of speculation and — at all costs — the preservation of capital. The day we met, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 350 points en route to one of its worst months ever.

J. Ezra Merkin, a Wall Street sage, noted philanthropist and professional money manager, seemed to embody more than any of the other panelists the fear that was gripping traders. When it was suggested that the government should stop intervening in markets and bailing out banks, Merkin rejoined that the system had cracked and desperately needed help. As the world now knows, Merkin had entrusted close to $2 billion of his investors’ money to someone even less dependable than the Dow — that is, the accused Ponzi artist Bernard Madoff. I have no reason to think that Merkin, at the time, had any knowledge of the fraud that was soon to secure his 15 minutes of fame, but that afternoon at Columbia now seems pregnant with latent connections. Perhaps Madoff’s investors lost a greater percentage of their money, and lost it more suddenly, than the rest of us. But beyond these mere matters of degree, is there really any difference?....more, unfortunately...
Yes there is more to the essay but I would have stopped reading here and assigned the theme an "F." Here is why, as should be agreed and self evident to all readers.

The author calls the trouble that Mr. Merkin now finds himself in, "his 15 minutes of fame." This misuses an allusion to a vaunted Warhol quip about our media culture -- as an apologia for misdeeds that earned Merkin public opprobrium. The results of Merkin's behavior need to be accurately characterized as a reputation of "infamy" not of "fame." That's no small difference. This, Lowenstein, is a serious failure of logic, rhetoric and fact.

While some may quibble over the above, the ensuing two sentences in the theme seal the "F" grade beyond any debate. Yes, it is "indeed," not "perhaps," that the loss of 100% of your investment to theft by fraud is more than loss of 40% in a severely declining market. We send students back to remediation courses for lapses in writing and thinking like this.

For a writer then to continue and ask about "mere matters of degree" and opine "is there any difference?" between the Merkin + Madoff crimes and the decline in value in the stock market -- well that earns him, in addition to the failing grade, a rare yet highly deserved rebuke as follows.

Sir, the difference between legitimate and illegitimate is so obvious, blatant and clear, I wonder, not just how you can pen this outrage, I ponder how does the Times allow this turn of a phrase to pass into its pages as part of its permanent record?

Mr. Lowenstein, you receive a grade of "F" for your essay. You fail so miserably to know right from wrong, good from evil, legal from fraudulent, I won't even be available to discuss this grade with you during my office hours.

As to how you can improve your writing and reasoning, I have no suggestions for you. You are one of the few writers that I have encountered who is obviously beyond any help.

Of course, it would be really troubling if it turns out that Lowenstein has an undisclosed relationship with Merkin during which at any time Merkin paid Lowenstein to ghost write or edit for him.

And as to Mr. Merkin, "Wall Street sage, noted philanthropist and professional money manager," the subject of this misguided essay, whose claims of innocence lack a scintilla of credibility, we are of the opinion that via his involvement in the matters of Madoff he will be securing for himself a correctional term that will exceed, "his 15 minutes of fame."

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