Best columns: Business
The effect of letting bankers walk
The New York Times
The Obama administration paved the way for President Donald Trump by failing to go after Wall Street fraudsters in the aftermath of the financial crisis, said Gretchen Morgenson. Many factors played into the “populist, anti-establishment anger” that swept Trump into the White House. But lest we forget, “not one high-ranking executive at a major financial firm was held to account for the crisis of 2008.” After millions of foreclosures and job losses, the lack of prosecutions or even major fines played perfectly into Trump’s message that the system is “rigged” in favor of the powerful at the expense of Main Street. More than 800 bankers went to jail after the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, a mess that pales in comparison with the economic devastation wrought by the housing bubble. “Embarrassed, perhaps, by their passivity,” Justice Department officials pledged last year to get tougher on Wall Street, but so far that hasn’t translated into results. White-collar crime prosecutions are down significantly in 2016 from previous years. It’s not clear whether Trump, who has made contradictory pledges both to deregulate and to rein in Wall Street, will actually govern as a populist. But “if voters come to believe that he is actually more interested in protecting his friends or dispensing favors to the powerful, they will turn on him.”
The Tronc and the fury
The New Yorker
“What’s in a brand name?” asked James Surowiecki. Companies routinely spend tens of millions of dollars developing catchy names for themselves and their products. Most stick to the idea that “a name should somehow evoke the fundamental quality that you hope to advertise,” whether it’s luxury or speed or reliability. Not so Tribune Publishing. The media company, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, rebranded in June as Tronc, short for “Tribune Online Content.” The new moniker “was ridiculed at the time and hasn’t done the company any favors since.” That’s probably because research has proven what has long been obvious: how a word sounds does indeed convey meaning. For example, “so-called front-vowel sounds, like the ‘i’ in ‘mil,’ evoke smallness and lightness, while back-vowel sounds, as in ‘mal,’ evoke heaviness and bigness.” In one study, people who ate ice cream called Frosh liked it better than people who ate the same ice cream under the name Frish, presumably for the former’s “big, creamy vowel sound.” Tribune may have been trying to invoke something forward-looking, but its back-vowel sound and clunky ‘k’ ending “convey something heavy, slow, and dull.” Now, if Tronc made heavy machinery, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But for the news biz, that’s a definite misfire.