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Business columns: We need new words for financial folly

“Bubble” has “an inescapably happy feel to it, conjuring up kids and parties and sudden iridescent poppings,” said Walter Murch and Lawrence Wechsler in the Los Angeles Times.

Walter Murch and Lawrence Wechsler
Los Angeles Times

“Words matter,” said Walter Murch and Lawrence Wechsler, because they “frame thought.” That’s why it’s time to retire use of the word “bubble” to describe various manifestations of financial excess.  “Bubble” has “an inescapably happy feel to it, conjuring up kids and parties and sudden iridescent poppings.” It just can’t convey the harm done by widespread speculative madness when the bubble finally “pops”—another harmless word. Clearly, we need to “conjure another metaphor” that might help generate a more appropriate response: A more fitting analogy would be “tumor.”

Like a tumor, a big bank that profits from selling shoddy investments seeks “to survive at all costs, to thrive at the expense of the surrounding healthy tissue.” Ultimately, that course leads to death for both the host and the tumor. If we talked about “the dot-com tumor,” “the sub-prime tumor,” or the “derivatives tumor,” we’d be far less likely to think of these phenomena as relatively harmless, and far more likely to approach them with “the highest possible vigilance.”

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