SWAG From The Past: Lehman On Ebay

Ebay surfing is one of my favorite activities. Just for fun, I typed in “Lehman Brothers” yesterday and found 271 items. Turns out Lehman Brothers produced a considerable amount of company SWAG while structuring collaterized debt obligations and credit default swaps.

You can find Lehman-branded mugs, baby bibs, baseball hats, polo shirts, gym bags, and drink cozies.

The baby bib is my favorite. “ChildrenFirst at Lehman Brothers.” It is advertised as a rare collectible. You can buy it for $150.00. Click here if you need a shower gift.

Since the 2008 recession, the child poverty rate in the U.S. has risen from 18% in 2008 to 22% in 2015. Grown-ups losing their jobs is not great for kids. And bank bailouts, quantitative easing, ZIRP, and the other machinations of the Fed appear to have helped the people who least need it.  I would mention fiscal policy stimulus, but there is nothing to mention.

I know it is not healthy to dwell on the past. But a new memoir by Erin Callan, former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, makes plain the utter negligence of Lehman’s management leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. As Callan tells it, she was “ill-equipped” to be the firm’s CFO, but took the job in February 2007 at the behest of former Lehman President Joe Gregory and CEO Dick Fuld.

She writes:

“I was willfully distracted as I kept moving up the ladder from job to job, focused on the next rung. I was never forced to evaluate exactly where I was because I didn’t pause to catch my breath to even consider it.”

Callan has since become more reflective. She married a firefighter and became a mother. One of the luckier victims of the financial crisis, she was able to pick up the pieces and start a new life. Her child will have the benefit of stable housing, decent educational opportunities, and two parents who can pay close attention to her development.

Everyone focuses on the grown-ups caught in the throws of the financial crisis. But kids are its silent victims. Child abuse and domestic violence increase during periods of financial stress. And when employers are looking to cut staff, pregnant workers are easy targets. They were the first to be laid off during the recession. Lay-offs are not the most beneficial prenatal care for mother or baby.

I see strong connections between Callan’s memoir and the “ChildrenFirst” bib. Callan’s journey from company fall guy to mother makes total sense. Redemption for her was found in putting someone else’s needs before her own. What if Lehman had been able to do the same?