William D. Cohan
When the most powerful men in American capitalism convened at the New York Federal Reserve Bank's Italianate palazzo in lower Manhattan on Friday evening, September 12, to try to save Lehman Brothers from certain death, what confronted them was nothing less than the knowledge that whatever actions they took – or did not take – that weekend could push the financial system into the abyss.
Over the next stressful 72 hours, CEOs and their top deputies from Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and other firms worked alongside Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner, then the president of the New York Federal Reserve and now Barack Obama's choice to replace Paulson at Treasury.
Three months to the day that the bankers emerged from that fateful weekend, though, it is clear that the ideals and egos of the participants in those meetings have reordered the American business landscape.
On Friday September 12, there were four major investment banks. Today, there are none recognizable as such. On that Friday, the Dow closed well above 11,000. Today, it is 3,000 points lower. On September 12, a form of "compassionate conservatism" was still the doctrine of the Bush administration.
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