English Major Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating

Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of the New York Times Book Review, and he, unsurprisingly, majored in English literature.  His old buddy, John Chambers, is the chairman of S&P’s sovereign rating committee, and Chambers, (perhaps) surprisingly, also majored in English literature. The two were friends at Grinnell College back in the day, and Tanenhaus takes time out to tell us about it at Slate.com.

For those of you completely uninterested in world affairs, Chambers has been making news because the S&P recently lowered America’s credit rating from AAA to AA+, causing something of a stir in world financial markets.

The article only hints at how Chambers got from Grinnell to Wall Street.  Instead, Tanenhaus gives us a taste of spending time in the cornfields of Iowa, the midwestern psyche, and the joys of hashing out the intricacies of Proust.  He then concludes with a more general meditation on the liberal arts:

John has told me the most important thing Grinnell taught him was how to write a well-argued paper. He learned his lesson well. The S&P report, whatever one thinks of its conclusions, is a model of clarity. Even an English major like me has no trouble making sense of the following: “The effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policy-making and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” Or: “The fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.”

So keep that in mind next time you worry about whether you have the “right” major (or majors).  Clothes don’t make the man.