Saturday, December 27, 2014

Too X To Fail

The ruling is out: Met Life is a SIFI. Kind of like Taylor Swift, though she would be a SIMI. And Peyton Manning would be a SIQI. If that sounds cryptic, it's because you aren't tuned into the workings of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, or the FSOC in government-speak. The council is tasked with identifying financial organizations that are critically important to the health and well-being of our overall economy. And it pronounced Met a SIFI, or Systemically Important Financial Institution. Put another way, it's "too big to fail." It's not that the company can't go south; it's that doing so would hurt the entire industry. Likewise with Taylor and Peyton. She is a Systemically Important Musical Institution, while he is of the quarterback variety.

As we come to the end of the year, many things, organizations and people who thought they were indeed too big to fail turned out not to be so after all. And as often as not, the reasons for their troubles were self-inflicted. They went into it thinking that they were, if not too big, then too popular, too entrenched, too well connected, or the biggest miscalculation of all, too smart to get into trouble. Needless to say, it didn't actually work out that way.

Take General Motors. Rising almost phoenix-like from the ashes of the financial crisis, it was just 5 years ago that they required a bailout to stay in business. Serious discussion was had as to whether or not we should let them slip away as a real-life demonstration of economic Darwinism. But prop them up we did, and since then they have earned over $22 billion. True, the stock price hasn't really soared, and so taxpayers lost $10.6 billion, since the collateral we took was in shares as opposed to IOU's. That aside, as a company, it is one of the most profitable in the nation.  

But then someone turned the key. Or actually the key turned itself, courtesy of a faulty ignition switch. Costs related to the recalls essentially wiped out any first quarter profits. And that's before the law suits and settlements really get going. And all because it turns out that they knew about it and covered it up. So maybe they are too big, but obviously not too stupid to fail.

Then there's FIFA. This was the year that the world watched the World Cup. And by world, I mean the US. People who until now thought that football only meant Tom Brady were discussing the finer points of headers and corner kicks. And it wasn't just cheering for the national team, though Tim Howard did become a household name for a few minutes. Belgium and Holland, along with perennial powerhouses Germany and Argentina, all attracted huge American followings. It looked like it might finally be soccer's time on these shores.

But then the report came out about bid rigging associated with the next tournaments. Russia and Qatar secured the rights, with absolutely no one thinking that either location won because they were the best choice. (In Qatar at game time it should be about 122 degrees.) FIFA doesn't really care, because, well, they don't think they have to. They are sure that once again the fans will come and the world will watch. Again, maybe too big to fail, but perhaps not too corrupt, given a chance.

Turns out Bill Cosby was not too iconic to ignore his accusers. Justin Bieber was not too popular to get arrested. The New York Jets were not too bad to become even worse. Vladimir Putin was not too popular to stop the ruble from plummeting. Ray Rice was not too indispensable to get away with hitting his girlfriend. And Roger Goodell was not too NFL commissioner to handle it all the wrong way.

There are many more that thought that there was no way that things could turn out badly. But like Tiger Woods or Bernie Madoff before them, things have a funny way of changing directions on you pretty fast, especially when you think you can do no wrong. The bottom line is nothing is too big. Except maybe if you are Taylor or Peyton. I mean, should he ever lose his arm, the government may need to step in. The economy is one thing, but don't go messing with football.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is too small for anyone to really care. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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