Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lazy Sunday Reading: This American Life - Crybabies

This American Life #415, "Wall Street: Money Never Weeps":

Ira Glass: How much whining and complaining are Wall St guys doing about the federal government now. Like this guy, Steven Schwartzman, is he an outlier?
Adam Davidson: My view is that he represents a much broader view and he's one of the few guys who has the guts to say it out loud... If I can use an odious and ridiculous comparison, [the complaining that he hears from high and low level Wall St employees] reminds me of Baathists in Iraq.
...The people who made money and were in power under Saddam Hussein.
High-level Baathists that I found in Iraq after the war... The group that had the most self-pity... were those people who made a fortune through the evil and illegal activities tof the Baathist regime and it feels very similar when I'm talking to people on Wall St. This self-pity combined with a total lack of reflection of how they had been such massive beneficiaries of a system that had been so bad for the country.
IG: And it continues to generate huge profits
AD: Pretty much every big bank that you can name - with the possible exception of Chase - would not exist today were it not for the gov. They are growing quickly and making record profits by some accounts. This year will be the biggest bonus year ever, for Wall St. Last year was the biggest before that. So, that bucket of activity - let's just call it The Bailout, although it was more than just the bailout - most folks on WS who I know feel, "That was just necessary. If we had gone down, the whole US economy, the whole world economy would've gone down. We would've had a Great Depression." I'm sympathetic to that argument. That being said, it would be appropriate for folks on WS to say publicly that their businesses failed. And something that they have always said they're against - government intervention - rescued them and made them get the opposite of what you're supposed to get in a capitalist economy - rewarded instead of punished for bad, risky behavior. I cannot think of any thing in the media or that I have directly heard that reflects any gratitude... Self-reflection is a very small part of what I hear.
IG: What about when they go in front of Congress, don't they say, "Thanks! You saved us, we just want to acknowledge what you've done."
AD: ... I can't think of a time that someone said, "My bank would not exist today. It failed because we took actions that led to our investors having no faith in us. But the government stepped in and because of that, we are making more money than we've ever made before."
IG: What about the workaday people, the analysts, the brokers, the traders, the mid-level people who make a lot of money... Are they grateful?
AD: ... I got a group of furious Wall St guys, getting together to figure out what to do about their anger at the president and the Democrats in Congress. And one guy said, "I swear to God, they're trying to destroy business in America... How do we fight the President?"... I gotta say, it was a pretty emblematic moment. I'm willing to bet you can go to any bar in Wall Street any night of the week and you can find someone complaining about all the different ways the president and government are harming Wall St.

[They got some audio from recorded conversations taken in a bar in Wall Street after the closing bell.]

Wall Street Guy #1: The government must have an enemy, because if they don't have an enemy, they are the enemy. So, Wall St. is the current enemy.
AD*: I can guarantee your bank would've gone under, your stock evaluation, your credit agency would've been out of business. All three of you would have been out of work [if the government hadn't bailed you out].
Wall Street Guy #2: What would you have liked for us to do?
Radio Woman: I would like to bail it out and I would like to walk into a bar in lower Manhattan and have one of you to acknowledge me and thank me for keeping your job.
WSG1: For what?
AD: How do you think you kept your job?
WSG2: Because I'm a smart person.
WSG1: Survival of the fittest.
WSG3: Because I'm smarter than the average person.
RW: Even if the gov't bails out your industry?
WSG3: I took advantage of the situation. 95% of the population doesn't have that common sense.

*Disclaimer: Yeah, I don't know who said what...

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