Of course, one can try to get away to sunnier, more mellow climes. But the usual havens aren't offering much succor. Florida—like New York, except the catastrophe is real estate. Mexico? Um, not now. But last month, I found an unexpected haven: the Midwest. Each semester, the University of Wisconsin School of Business brings in a journalist-in-residence for a week, usually from New York. The theory: Students and professors benefit from the perspective of someone who is chronicling the workings of the world they are studying remotely.
But the benefit was greater for me than for the students. The four days in Madison functioned as a kind of detox. I left thinking the university should turn the Fluno Center for Executive Education into a sort of clinic. It could do for stressed-out financial and media types what Minneapolis' Hazelden does for the drugged-out: offer a safe, friendly (if chilly) place to escape the toxic influence of New York.
The article is decent overall, but it really does have a bit of condescension to it -- "look at the cute mid-Westerners: they don't want to move money around! They want to actually start businesses!"
But in Madison, the vibe is much different. The television in the business school's lobby was set to Headline News, not CNBC. The only mention of toxic assets was an ironic one—on a T-shirt. When I walked into undergraduate finance classes and asked, "How many want to go get a kick-ass job on Wall Street and make a ton of money?" not a single hand was raised. The students are mostly kids from Wisconsin studying the basics—management, accounting, corporate finance. Some plan to stay in-state and find a job with a small business or with one of the big local firms: Kohler, S.C. Johnson, Kohl's, Harley-Davidson. Many head to Minneapolis or Chicago for jobs with consumer products companies. The University of Wisconsin boasts of having as many alumni who are CEOs of big companies as Harvard does. Yes, Chicago has its big options exchanges. But the Wisconsin students don't seem interesting in moving money around. That happens in the East. ("Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe," as Midwest native Nick Carraway put it in The Great Gatsby, "so I decided to go East and learn the bond business.")
The finance graduate students I had lunch with knew about CDOs and hedge funds but mostly as academic subjects. When I met with a small group of undergrads in an entrepreneurship course, they presented interesting ideas about online businesses, not financial engineering. Private-equity magnate Henry Kravis, CNBC anchor Erin Burnett, and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon could probably sit down at State Street Brats and chow down unnoticed and unbothered.