Wall Street

'The Big Short' a Scathing Indictment of Culture of Greed

Still from 'The Big Short'

Still from The Big Short

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve both God and money. Serving money above all else means that we pursue our own greed, usually at the expense of others’ well being. To serve God is to care for our brothers and sisters. To serve money is to forget that their problems exist.

Director Adam McKay’s new film The Big Short, about the events leading up to the 2008 economic collapse, is a scathing indictment of the culture of greed, shortsightedness, and self-interest that allowed millions of people to lose their jobs and homes. It’s a comedy, but one whose dark humor derives from a passionate sense of disappointment and anger.

Occupy Good Pasture

Wall St., Delpixel / Shutterstock.com

Wall St., Delpixel / Shutterstock.com

The interesting thing about human nature is that even among the oppressed, people will seek supremacy, a pecking order. We human beings have great capacity for tenderness and compassion, and we’re also the meanest things in the world! And even when we are oppressed together, we will try to find some advantage or superiority over others.

“As for you, my flock, saith the Lord, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?” 

In other words: Do you have to get what’s yours and at the same time mess it up for others?

COMMENTARY: Free Market Compensation or a Rigged System?

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

In a marketplace unfettered by ethical restraint, a sense of duty, concern for others, or even basic shame, 25 hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50 percent pay boost in 2013.

Never mind that hedge funds’ performance, on average, tanked for the fifth consecutive year.

These 25 men wanted big bucks, so they took them: a total of $21 billion. All for managing wealth that someone else created and, except for a few, not managing it particularly well.

The top earner paid himself $3.5 billion for 2013.

David Brooks, Producing People, and Saving the World

Wall Street sign outside New York Stock Exchange, Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Wall Street sign outside New York Stock Exchange, Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, responded, this week, to an intriguing article in the Washington Post about Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate, who chose a career on Wall Street as a way to redistribute wealth. 

Trigg’s plan is simple. Make lots of money. Live simply. Give lots of money. It’s not far from John Wesley’s advice of, “Earn all you can. Give all you can. Save all you can.”  Actually, it’s almost identical.

Brooks perceptively sees the dangers and pitfalls in the road ahead. Most specifically, wealth and the surrounding environment can have a corrosive effect, no matter good our intentions. Brooks writes:

…the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you.

Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.

But, while I echo Brooks concern, I disagree with his ultimate conclusion. He goes on to argue that we should pursue careers that elicit passion (seeming to indicate that hedge funds couldn’t be a passion for some people) and that if we truly care about children in Africa, it’s best to go there – not Wall Street.

In Congress, a Bipartisan Effort to Hold Wall Street Accountable

Reuters reports:

"Senators are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill on Monday to give the country's securities regulator the authority to seek tougher fines for alleged Wall Street criminals.

The bill, sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, would boost the penalties that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission can seek from firms and individuals accused of wrongdoing and triple the cap on funds the agency can seek from repeat offenders.
 
'If a fine is just decimal dust for a Wall Street firm, that's not a deterrent,' Grassley said in a statement. 'A penalty should mean something.'"
 
The bill comes only months after SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro asked Congress to boost the agency's firepower, after a federal judge in New York tossed out two SEC settlements over paltry penalties.
 
Learn more here

Grace on Wall Street

Wall Street sign, Vacclav / Shutterstock.com

Wall Street sign, Vacclav / Shutterstock.com

When Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman stepped up this year to defend Goldman Sachs – a company that was reeling from former employee Greg Smith’s New York Times op-ed decrying the change in culture at the company (and is now reeling from a sex-trafficking website scandal) – Gorman intimated the need for compassion by noting “there but for the grace of God go us."  

This got my attention immediately. Not because Gorman, in the lead up to the “grace of God” intimation, asked that Smith’s commentary not be emailed around by Morgan Stanley staff. Not because Gorman suggested that the New York Times was out of line for printing public opinion. 

No, Gorman got my attention because while it was out of line for Morgan Stanley’s CEO to suggest grace in considering Wall Street culture, that phrase has been a mantra of mine ever since my youth.

Pages

Subscribe