CEO, Good Business International Inc.
A rather caustic editorial from Bloomberg News‘ nameless “editors” mocked Goldman Sachs defector, Greg Smith, in fake bully-on-the-playground bravura. Just like blogging commentators, it’s easy to be brave when your identity is hidden. It is even easier to be a bully when you can take a few swings and slink back under your rock in the refuge of a giant media powerhouse. The anonymous jabs aimed at Smith’s hope that integrity be part of Wall Street profit-making reveal the wide disparity between common financial models and the 21st century ethos of “Doing Well by Doing Good.” The editors retort: “Yes, Mr. Smith, Goldman Sachs Is All About Making Money,” Nowhere in that statement or any other defense of Goldman is there anything about creating value for dollars, simply a tacit endorsement of profit at any cost.
What Greg Smith’s op-ed confirms is that four years after Bear Stearns collapsed under the weight of risky bets, the destructive and toxic for-profit model that created the crisis has not changed: the model that Bruce Springsteen lyrically calls “the Wrecking Ball.”
Since when does the biggest baddest investment bank of them all, one that transformed from the most admired financial institution in the world to the poster-child of Wall Street evil, need to be defended from a single “mid-level” rogue employee? Since the accusation of greed and corruption struck a resonant chord of truth so deep between Wall Street’s wrecking ball and the rest of the modern world, it could not be ignored.
In a powerful Rolling Stone interview with national heroes, Bruce Springsteen and comedian Jon Stewart, “the Boss” outlines “the street criminalization of the big-money Wall Street hustle” echoed in Smith’s op-ed that has lit the fire of outrage in millions of Americans. Explains Bruce: “That hustle has been legitimized over the past four years, when you have that level of risk and greed at the top of the financial industry, and people basically walking away scot-free, completely unaccountable. That lack of accountability is the poison shot straight into the heart of the country.”
And so it has. The poison has created a dual society in our nation that Springsteen warns, slices “the country down the middle” — one where the powerful and well-placed follow a different set of rules from the rest of the nation. Main Street is supposed to obey the law and pay the price for its actions if it doesn’t, while Wall Street’s most powerful institutions are handed the get-out-of-jail card free by those who make and enforce the laws.
To America’s citizens, the hustle of the 2008-2010 crisis and unilateral banking bailouts go far beyond government failure and move to political corruption of the highest degree. Springsteen compares the lack of accountability in the post-crisis handling of both the Bush and Obama years to the Watergate scandal, one of the darkest periods in our national history. “Watergate legitimized the hustle at the top of the game … It legitimized every street-corner thug.”
Watergate made a mockery of American justice revealing a corruption so deep and pervasive that it “almost had the country brought down by it.” For Springsteen and America, the financial crisis has exposed the same. Financial historian Professor Robert Wright calls the flaws in the current Wall Street-Federal model: the socialization of risk and the privatization of profits that has “planted the seeds of future crisis.” Everyone in America knows, with the possible exception of a few still in denial, that the “risk takers” were rewarded by transferring Wall Street losses onto the backs of an overburdened Main Street.
Every day in grade school, children put their hands over their hearts and pledge allegiance to a nation that stands for “liberty and justice for all.” Springsteen asks, “What happened to that social contract?” Where is the promise that our children pray for?
What made this country great were not the bullies in the playground who laugh at the “naïve” integrity of fellow citizens. It is the shared sacrifice of our parents and grandparents who fought against injustice both on foreign and home shores to right the wrongs of an unequal dream. Those that saved every penny of their hard earned cash only to watch it evaporate during the Great Depression — a time so tough that a new president came to the aid of the powerless and demanded that America’s promise of equality be fulfilled.
So here we are again: one more time. As Occupy Wall Street began the conversation last fall with a call for a fair deal for everyone, Greg Smith’s op-ed reveals that good conscience may be dead for a soul-sick Wall Street, but Main Street is still holding out hope to reinstate America’s broken social contract.
The antidote for the poison shot into the heart of America is justice. Springsteen sings the struggle of many Americans who lost their jobs and homes in these post-crisis years:
I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home; I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone…We yelled “help” but the cavalry stayed home; There ain’t no one hearing the bugle blown…
Springsteen’s ballad asks the questions the nation asks of its leaders:
Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see Where the hearts, that run over with mercy Where’s the love that has not forsaken me Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free
The social contract implicit in America’s promise and defended by country men and women on the beaches of Normandy, the streets of Birmingham and the squatter city of Zuccotti Park is woven into every aspect of American culture from Washington, to Wall Street, to Main Street.
The contract is not “All About Making Money” as some would have us believe. Rather it represents a common commitment to abolish tyranny and injustice that continues to surface in legal battles of foreclosure fraud and class actions suits against an out-of-control banking industry that became an enemy to its own people.
The social contract that our culture is based on is something far greater than the myopic self-serving greed we have witnessed. It emanates from deeply embedded values established centuries ago like integrity, democratic ideals and fair play that improve with each generation.
Echoed in Springsteen’s poetry is the historic promise of America to its citizens: “From sea to shining sea…Wherever this flag’s flown, we take care of our own.”
Monika Mitchell is the co-author of “Conversations with Wall Street” — a collection of candid discussions with Wall Street market makers on ethics in the mortgage securities industry. CWWS outlines a social contract between America and the Financial Industry.