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Just a decade ago, we were in the halcyon days when young internet moguls and website entrepreneurs were minting money on IPOs for gambits on yet to be profitable start-ups. Newspapers ran stories about how to best spend the rest of your life after retiring at 29. President Bush cut federal taxes and promised more economic growth, but 9/11 was a kick in the teeth, and maybe an early warning that fortunes would be changing.  High tech took a swoon and the economy dipped, but a combination of Fed-engineered low interest rates and plenty of easy credit fueled a housing boom and ignited consumer binging. Let the party resume. Glass Steagall repeal in 1999 under President Clinton had helped open the door to Wall Street bankers and traders leveraging up house money while playing increasingly risky bets with client dollars. In the real estate world, brokers and dealmakers took full advantage, bidding up everything and anything in site and extracting generous transaction fees at every opportunity.  

I remember thinking in summer 2001 when the biggest issue in Washington was whether to fund stem cell research and all the headlines were about Chandra Levy and Gary Condit (who?) that somehow the country seemed to be losing its way. On 9/11 I had just arrived in Atlanta on one of the last planes out of LaGuardia and called my wife: She told me “life won’t be the same again.” I wasn’t so sure but then went into a meeting where the head of risk management at my company warned to evacuate our 20-odd story Buckhead office building, because it might be the next target–“it’s owned by an international insurance company,” she said by way of explanation. Let me put it this way—I didn’t run for the exits. But I should have known then that risk management had its limits.

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