John Renesch runs a thoughtful blog over at The Global Dialogue Center.
His recent post was called “Wall Street Skull and Crossbones”. I took issue with his emotional characterization of bankers as pirates.
He wrote: “Their sole purpose is to make a profit, and to do so with the least amount of capital as possible.”
John: You say that like it’s a bad thing.
My reply is below…
I think you’ve got it backwards. These guys aren’t pirates, we are, and if we aren’t careful we will destroy the gold ships that we raid every day as they sail past our little islands. You wrote: “Their [Wall Street bankers’] sole purpose is to make a profit, and to do so with the least amount of capital as possible.” Yes, that is exactly what we as a society want them to do, because the ability to do that is very rare, and it is the root of wealth creation for us all. Right now I am siting in the reading room of the main branch of the New York Public Library. It is a vast and gorgeous building, one of the treasures of our nation. Around me are some hundred of so scholars, citizens working on who knows what pursuit of inteligencia. In this room are sociologists, and anthropologists, art critics and novelists at work, pushing forward knowledge, creating the foundations for the future. I think that woman over there is actually looking up a recipe for dinner tonight, but be that as it may, I know the older guy next to me is a famous historian. I recognize him from his dust jacket picture. As a resource for scholarship and learning this institution is unmatched around the world. Even without the research divisions, through its branch system, the NYPL also supports the education of hundreds of thousands of children. It is almost 100% supported by Wall Street money. The funding for the NYP is not special or unique, its common. I came here after being over at the Columbia Hospital Research Center made possible by Sandy Weil’s contributions, and I passed the other hospital that Hank Greenburg created. Of course on the way I rode subways and busses all paid for with Wall Street taxes, and there were police and fire trucks out on the streets because the city earns more from the super rich than any other group. Outside the city, foreign assistance and agrarian research is being done around the world not because of my measly tax contributions but because of the millions collected from the limo riders downtown. And as I read your post I thought about what Bill Gates is doing in Africa, all made possible because Wall Street drove up the price of Microsoft stock. I could go on and on for pages. There isn’t a social institution in this country that could or would exist without the wealth creation mechanism of our economy. Governments can’t do it (they destroy wealth not create it). Under organized labors can’t do it (that’s the nature of an advanced culture). The only way that the daily lot of the average world citizen can be improved is by having a few rabid workaholics out there “making a profit with the least amount of capital possible”. The issue you should be railing about is not greed (or its partner jealousy) but about how we all collectively decide how to use the spoils of the rich guy’s labor. Yes it really is true, it’s the little guys, the professors, the retirees, the cubical dwellers, school children, and blog writers who are the pirates. We are the ones who raid the ships of the bankers and businessmen and take the loot they create. I’m OK with that because I like my MacBook and I really don’t think I could have invented the technology and built one myself for its $1,100 price tag. I’m also OK with it because I really don’t want to go back to a time when I have to go out into the fields and grow my own food, like our grandfathers did. And I’m OK with it because I want to be able to keep extending these gains to everyone around the world, as we have these past hundred years, not stop the whole thing cold. What I worry about is cutting off our nose to spite our face. If we dismiss the reality that you, or I, or 95% of the world’s population can’t keep this whole thing going without a very small, very special, and perhaps very distasteful band of “Wall Streeters” we are going to make (are making?) a lot of bad long term decisions. So lets go and tar a feather a few of them to keep them in line, but let’s be realistic, the goal is not to destroy them, but keep them in harness, perhaps a little chastened and restrained, but still working their tail’s off so they can pull this whole thing forward. Doug