How cleaning up Wall Street could clean up Congress, protect families

How cleaning up Wall Street could clean up Congress, protect families

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Wolf of Wall Street / Movie image
Wolf of Wall Street / Movie image

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2013 — As Congress frittered away last weekend trapped in indefatigable gridlock of their own making, Senator John McCain joined thirty presenters at the Nantucket Project in their quest to “Seek the truth, endure the consequences.”

Founded in 2011 by Tom Scott (co-founder of Nantucket Nectors) and local entertainment maven Kate Brosnan, the Nantucket Project (TNP) is a conference which was intended to “create a powerful distillation of ideas that will spark meaningful conversation and lead to meaningful change.”

Presenters included former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, investor David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group, Council on Foreign Relations), activist writer Eve Ensler, New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, Soviet journalist Vladimir Pozner, Pat Mitchell (Paley Center for Media), Hardball host Chris Matthews, Stefan Weitz (Bing), AOL CEO Bob Lord, and many others.

Senator McCain was one of many presenters who expressed their concerns that corruption on Wall Street has perverted our elections and made once the once reasonable American dream a remote possibility for many families. Participants struggled with the question as to why so many industry leaders and “good workers”  stayed silent while the market collapsed and millions lost their pensions, retirement savings, and homes to bad Wall Street deals beyond their control?

While all bankers are not crooks and carpet baggers, leadership sets the standard of how business will be conducted. In one particular presentation, financial industry leaders Bob DiamondJeff Walker, and Meredith Whitney struggled most with was can we preserve the good on Wall Street, but prevent the same catastrophes from happening again?

The Banking Industry Should Treat Employees Like Human Beings.

According to sociopath expert Donna Anderson, inherently ethical people may all have one thing in common, and that is that they have strong loving bonds with their families and their community. Whether you are an “ethical person” is not determined by whether or not one gets caught red handed, but whether one voluntarily elects to behave with integrity when no one is looking.

The problem is that in order to make it on Wall Street, you may have to make decisions like sociopaths who “feel no emotional connections to others and have zero regard for the rules and regulations of society.”

Last summer, 21 year old Moritz Erhardt was literally worked to death while serving as a summer intern for Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Investment Bank Division. According to those who knew him, Erhardt modeled himself after Wall Street swindler Gordon Gekko, a fictional character played by Michael Douglas in the movie.

Apparently, Erhardt felt that in order to “impress his bosses” and achieve his goals in the banking industry, he needed to work eight all-nighters in a row under circumstances which can only be described as unnatural. But Erhardt wasn’t a fictional character, he was the beloved son of Dr Hans-Georg and Ulrike Dieterle, and so on the 8th day his body went into seizures and he died.

If in order to become a successful investment banker, one must effectively sever all normal ties to their body, their loved ones and society to become a slave to the firm, we cannot then complain that the only people left in the industry are sociopaths and those willing to enable them.

“Family values” isn’t just a slogan used for the company picnic or something relevant only to retired venture capitalists. Firms that wish to employ an ethical workforce need to provide employees with time away from the office to nurture their personal relationships. At the very least, perhaps in order to ward off the hazards of sleep deprivation, the industry should limit the number of shifts their employees work in the same way that corporations who employ doctors, nurses, and pilots do.

Pay Investment Bankers A Reasonable Set Rate.

It is wrongly assumed that ethical conduct will result by aligning the interests of employees with share holders by tying job performance to incentives and ownership interest in the corporation. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is an example of a firm where there was a high ratio of employees who held ownership interests in their employer. This strategy may have acted as an incentive for employees to personally enrich themselves through not only unethical, but perhaps criminal conduct, none of which is in the shareholder’s best interests.

Will talented young businessmen stop wanting to work in the financial industry because we pay them a set rate of $1 million instead of $30 million? Will there come a day when Gordon Gekko’s job is outsourced to China or India? Probably not.

Over Haul The Nonprofit Tax Code To Make It More Transparent.

The nonprofit tax code should perform better for those genuinely seeking to help the poor, not just for those hiding from the tax man. It is unacceptable that some “philanthropists” made their fortune looting pension funds, retirement accounts, and mortgages, then upon their retirement, regift the plunder through their nonprofit [tax shelter] venture to solve the problem of poverty they helped fester. Or worse yet, misuse “charity” secretly purchase elections.

At the very least, one should be able to go to a government website and perform a search of charities by Director’s name, then look at a 990 tax form and understand who the donors are, where the charity’s money comes from, and who controls the purse strings. That hasn’t happened yet. After all, the purpose of the law is supposedly to protect consumers.

Require Investment Reports Be Written In Clear, Plain Language The Masses Can Understand.

Krista Tippet brings up an important point, which is that the majority of the public may not be meaningfully engaged in understanding their own investments:

“The complexity of the financial market structure itself creates an ethical dilemma for industry professionals.”

If the majority of pension holders are not bankers with a Master’s Degree in finance, what legitimate reason could there be for writing quarterly reports only a Wharton trained banker could understand?

Solicit Feedback On Wall Street From Outside Banking Industry.

The reason the public is so angry with the banking industry is that in order to have their voices heard, Occupy Wall Street had to set up tents, mass protests on the lawns of CEO’s and government offices across the country. It’s time for Wall Street’s leadership consult outside the inbred cult of industry leaders and broadens the scope of those who define the “success” of their corporations.

Perhaps what makes the American family most qualified to participate in this discussion is the fact that we may look the same as the unethical leaders who benefitted from the economic collapse, we may have attended the same elite schools and work in the same professions, but we are different in one fundamental way. Most of us do not have employees or children who are felons who have done time for stealing from the elderly, and we would not cover for someone who did. We pay our share of taxes and we know the difference between plunder and charity, as well as philanthropy and election rigging.

TNP recognizes the fact that our families may be powerless today, but tomorrow our children will staff and take leadership roles, and maybe even own the dishonest companies in question. For certain, the next generation will never forget the manner in which we were treated today.


This story originally published October 3, 2013

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