The financial panic that began with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank introduced us to an odd phrase for such a sterile, suburban-backdrop event: being made whole.

Being made whole is an outcome people expect from lovers—naively as it turns out, at least according to songs. What really plucks the heartstrings is not that the people desired often fail to honor this expectation but the way in which those doing the desiring confront reality. This is what reroutes the Love Train into the self-help aisle.

But in regard to banks, whose idea was it to describe a failed bank’s large depositors holding on to every last cent as being “made whole”? Does the simple fact of having assets make you, as an entity, deserve to be whole? I might buy that concept if all depositors were people, but they’re not.

Many of the $250,000+ depositors at SVB were startups. They got a chunk of money from venture capitalists like Peter Thiel and plunked it down in what they thought was a safe and secure spot, since, for many of them, it would take years (if not decades) for their venture to turn a profit.

It’s harder to elicit sympathy for a startup losing the abundant seed money it didn’t have to raise let alone earn. You hear the chorus that this money was being used for critical medical research, but I have yet to see a stat showing the percentage of these deposits going to the greater good.

How many are AI-based ventures whose business aim is to eliminate even more jobs done by people? How many simply have a new thing to send to upper-middle-class millennials and Zoomers every month via After Pay?

You could argue that since this VC-accruing process is so risky, the banking part should not be. It should be as effortless as the world conjured by those pretty photos of SVB’s upscale native habitat. If you’re an entity that can keep your money in such a nice place (even if your assets are not literally there), shouldn’t you be guaranteed the privilege of always being “whole,” something most people can only dream about in songs?

Barbra Streisand’s show-stopping song “People” was released as a single in January 1964 before being included in the premier of Funny Girl that March. Supposedly Bob Merrill’s lyrics for Jule Styne’s melody were written in 30 minutes. And supposedly the producers didn’t like the song. But these lyrics and the way that Babs belted them out have become embedded in our national psyche:

With one person—one very special person—
A feeling deep in your soul
Says you were half now you’re whole
No more hunger and thirst
But first be a person who needs people

But wait. As anyone on The View will tell you, it’s just not possible for someone to be a shining savior who fixes every single absence in your life. No one can fill the gaps in the life of another to make that person “whole.”

In our manic-capitalist, Citizens United economy, however, the belief that an entity that amasses capital (whether a human or a corporation) can be made whole and made better is sacrosanct. All the corporate marketing we’ve been subject to in a post-COVID economy desperate for job-seekers—the stuff about “putting people first” and having a “Chief People Officer”—is just a stage prop.

Those startup SVB depositors who felt themselves on the precipice immediately after the bank faltered were certainly lucky that the Fed stepped in. Maybe not as lucky as people who need people, but surely lucky to have the opportunity to live on (whole!) so that they’ll be able to manifest . . .  and manifest . . . and manifest . . . on many other days. §